- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Black political pundits said even though the Rev. Al Sharpton has only a slim chance of getting the Democratic presidential nomination, he shouldn’t abandon his campaign because he brings important issues of black America to the national debates.

Mr. Sharpton’s grass-roots volunteer campaign has helped him finish no better than third in any of the races thus far, with third-place showings in South Carolina and Michigan. He has netted a total of 12 delegates to the Democratic National Convention and the campaign was $348,451 in debt as of his last filing to the Federal Election Commission on Dec. 31.

Nonetheless, the New York-based Pentecostal minister said he will not stop — “if I have to buy a pair of sneakers and walk” — until the July convention in Boston, partly because minority voters want him to stay in.

Political consultants and analysts agree that Mr. Sharpton should stay in the race.

“This is a battle of ideas, too, and when you get Sharpton in a debate, he raises issues that some of the other candidates would not even touch if he wasn’t there,” said Sam Riddle, chief executive officer of the Detroit-based political consulting firm Meridian Management Systems.

Mr. Riddle, who was the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s state director for Michigan in his 1988 presidential bid, said Mr. Sharpton has a substantial voice in the debates and the national policy discussions in the news.

“He brings the full breadth of the American experience; people often forget that when you are president you represent the whole country,” Mr. Riddle said.

Ron Walters, professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland, also said he sees no need for Mr. Sharpton to end his run for the White House.

“I don’t think he should drop out. He should stay because. even without delegates, he has an opportunity to bring some accountability, at the level of issues for the black community,” Mr. Walters said.

Black lawmakers were silent on the issue. Many, like Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, would not comment.

The Maryland Democrat endorsed former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, as did Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, Michigan Democrat, and did not wish to discuss the dropping out of any candidate.

“I have my own agenda with what Wes Clark should be doing. I can’t decide what Sharpton or [Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio] should do,” said Rep. Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat, who endorsed the retired Army general from Arkansas.

Although comparisons have been made between Mr. Sharpton’s campaign and that of Mr. Jackson’s 1984 and 1988 bids, political analysts say the only similarities are the skin color and professions of both men.

“The campaigns are nothing alike,” Mr. Riddle said, adding that the principal difference between the two campaigns is the level of organization.

Mr. Jackson won Michigan in 1988, trouncing challenger Gov. Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts, who went on to win the Democratic nomination. He also took more than 1,200 delegates to the convention that year and received more than 7 million votes.

But, Mr. Walters said it is unfair to compare Mr. Jackson’s 1988 presidential run with the Sharpton campaign. Comparing only the numbers from Mr. Jackson’s first campaign in 1984, Mr. Sharpton is still far behind. Mr. Jackson secured more than 400 delegates in his first bid and 3.5 million votes.

Mr. Walters said part of the reason Mr. Sharpton has been unable to muster enough votes for delegates in states with substantial black voting electorates and raise significant campaign dollars is the black community is split on his candidacy, especially black elected officials.

“With Sharpton, there are a lot of credibility questions — the taint of Tawana Brawley, is this a hustle? — but in his speeches, he hits on issues important to urban America,” Mr. Riddle said, referring to Mr. Sharpton’s championing a teen girl’s false claim that six white men raped her in 1987.

In the 1980s, Mr. Jackson was able to capture a sense of a credible black social movement against President Reagan’s brand of conservatism, Mr. Walters said. The Congressional Black Caucus and state and local elected officials united around Mr. Jackson early on in both races.

“People were freer to do their own thing this time, and I have criticized that, because unity is the hallmark of political power in a minority group,” Mr. Walters said.

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