- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 4, 2004

COLUMBIA, S.C. — The Rev. Al Sharpton may not have clinched the South Carolina Democratic primary yesterday, but he said he has invigorated black voters, one of the key goals of his campaign.

Garnering just 18 percent of the black vote, Mr. Sharpton said he has no plans to throw in the towel anytime soon. Mr. Edwards netted a plurality of black votes, collecting 37 percent.

“We hope to win enough [delegates] to win the nomination, but the least we can do is energize a new base,” Mr. Sharpton said.

Mr. Kerry took 34 percent of the black vote, thanks in part to the endorsement of Rep. James E. Clyburn, South Carolina Democrat and the only black politician from the state on Capitol Hill.

Mr. Sharpton finished third overall yesterday, trailing Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry in second place and North Carolina Sen. John Edwards in first.

“This is a testament of faith,” Mr. Sharpton said at a celebratory party, where he noted the candidates he placed above. “For me to come in here and get double digits with no money, far from home, shows that volunteers and a grass-roots organization can work.”

Figures show 47 percent of those voting yesterday in South Carolina were black.

The contest was the first critical measure of how blacks are voting this primary season. Nearly 30 percent of South Carolina’s registered voters are black.

The black voting bloc is by far the most loyal to Democrats and is essential for a Democratic presidential nominee to win the general election, especially in the South. Exit polls during the 2000 presidential election showed that 53 percent of South Carolina voters who supported Al Gore were black. Mr. Sharpton had hoped to capture that base for himself.

He has campaigned here for more than a month, and spent Monday traveling around the state.

In Missouri, Mr. Sharpton placed seventh behind race dropout Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, receiving roughly 5,300 votes. Mr. Sharpton didn’t spend much time campaigning in Missouri, which was another key state in measuring the black, urban vote.

Mr. Sharpton has said repeatedly that one of his goals during the 2004 election is to inspire more blacks to vote.

During more than 30 campaign stops here, he illustrated the importance of black voters turning up at the polls after former Democratic Gov. James Hodges lost his seat in the 2002 election by 40,000 votes to Republican challenger and current Gov. Mark Sanford.

“But almost 140,000 blacks in the state did not vote. What would have happened if they got to the polls?” Mr. Sharpton asked.

He was not without some small victory. Mr. Sharpton placed ahead of Arkansas native Wesley Clark, who touted his Southern roots while campaigning here. Mr. Clark, a retired Army general, outspent all the candidates here, dropping $1 million, including $300,000 in the past week alone.

The New York-based Pentecostal minister said he has no intention of dropping out after his primary showing.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McCauliffe said over the weekend that candidates who did not win or place well in any of yesterday’s primaries should drop out.

That didn’t sway Mr. Sharpton, who said he has no intention of leaving the race and that Mr. McCauliffe’s plea is proof of the party’s noninclusive behavior in the past 10 years.

“I am not weary at all, and I have no intention of dropping out of the race,” Mr. Sharpton said. “If I can energize a base by staying in, it can help get [a stronger black turnout] that the Democratic National Committee couldn’t do themselves.”

Despite winning few to no delegates, Mr. Sharpton will fly to Michigan this morning and then to Virginia in the coming days.He said money is not an issue, and that the response he has received from voters has invigorated him.

Some voters in South Carolina said they hoped Mr. Sharpton and also Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio did not drop out because they were forcing others candidates to address issues of jobs, race and others topics important to urban minority voters.

“He is the only one hammering on the issues of keeping jobs in America, expanded health insurance and education opportunities,” said Richard McCall, a steelworker form Georgetown, about Mr. Sharpton.

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