Jewish World Review June 11, 2003 / 11 Sivan, 5763
Will the Rev go rogue?
Will the Rev. Al Sharpton be the Ralph Nader
of 2004? Sharpton is running for the Democratic nomination for
president - but turns coy when he's asked if he'll run as an
independent in November '04.
"I intend to be my party's candidate," he says, something the average 6-year-old knows won't happen. "The
question is: Will the other candidates support me after I win the nomination!"
Campaigning recently at Washington and Lee University (in the heartland of the old Confederacy), Sharpton
refused to rule out a third-party run. Speaking in front of Lee Chapel (where the Civil War general lies buried), he
pounded away at the Democratic Party for failing to stand up for the needs of the poor. "We already have one
Republican Party," he said. "We don't need another one."
President Bush came in for only passing criticism; the Clintons bore the brunt of his wrath. "We sent out a
white man to galvanize the African-American community in 2002 and get them to come to the polls. But he's
not the leader of the black community! And his appeal fell flat - the African-American vote stayed home and the
Democrats lost Congress as a result."
Enraged at the party's failure to help Carl McCall in his race for governor last year, and angry that the
Democratic Party takes the black vote for granted, Sharpton may want to teach the party establishment a
lesson: An independent black candidate can cost them the White House.
If Nader can turn the party upside down by getting 3 percent of the national vote, imagine the bargaining power
Sharpton would have if he can draw 5 or 6 percent (half of the black vote).
Sharing the platform with him, I developed the clear impression that Sharpton's in the race to stay. He wants to
become America's civil-rights leader. He seeks the mantle Jesse Jackson (compromised by scandal and by his
son's ambition to make it in Congress) has laid down.
His message - that the Democratic Party takes "African-Americans for granted" - resonates wiell in the black
community. But he must realize that his is far too polarizing a candidacy to attract much white support. If
Jackson couldn't win at the height of his popularity in the late '80s, how could Sharpton, less well known and
less credible among whites, hope to do so? But if he just repeats the path that Jackson trod so many times,
what advantage is there in it for Sharpton?
Only by demonstrating to the party establishment that they can't take the black vote for granted can Sharpton
acquire the national stature he craves and the power he seeks.
The Democrats don't have much chance anyway in 2004. Now would be the perfect time for Sharpton to show
how badly they need him. Once Al runs as an independent, he'll never have to do it again. He can name his
price for not jumping ship a second time and not torpedoing Democratic chances of victory.
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JWR contributor Dick Morris is the author of, among others, "Power Plays: Top 20 Winning and Losing Strategies of History's Great Political Leaders" Comment by clicking here.
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© 2002, Dick Morris