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Sharpton Candidacy Would Be 'Great News' for GOP, Say Analysts

Tuesday, 29 January 2002 12:00 AM

Some political analysts say Sharpton's potential bid for the Democratic presidential nomination must be taken "seriously" and could end up being "great news for Republicans."

Sharpton's biggest political liability may be the famous Tawana Brawley case from the late 1980s. Sharpton took up the cause of the teenaged Brawley, who claimed she was kidnapped and raped by six white law enforcement officers. A grand jury found the case to be a hoax and exonerated the six men. Sharpton's critics called him a "race baiter" and "Rev. Al Charlatan," but this did not slow Sharpton's ascension onto the national political scene.

He founded National Action Network in 1991. The group's mission, according to its Web site, is to be the "voice of empowerment for the disenfranchised throughout America."

Sharpton describes himself as a conservative. "I think my lifestyle is pretty conservative. I believe in my children getting a good education. I believe in family, in values, in the community," he remarked.

He chastised those who allow themselves to be victims of society. "This making excuses for lack of achievement I don't buy at all. We have had times harder than this, and that was no reason for us not to have literacy higher in our communities," he said.

"Even if I feel we have been knocked down, we are responsible for getting up."

Sharpton does take traditionally liberal stances on social issues. He believes in gun control and abortion rights. "Personally, my wife and I would not [favor abortion]. But I personally believe people have the right to choice."

He sees his presidential bid focusing on empowerment and says he has three main policy goals. Still angry about President Bush's narrow victory in the 2000 presidential election, Sharpton says his top goal is election "reform.”

"There has to be a clear legislative answer to what happened in the 2000 debacle," he said.

His second priority would be to reform the criminal justice system. Sharpton wants to decrease the number of people behind bars, repeal all federal mandatory sentencing laws and overhaul what he calls racial profiling tactics used by law enforcement.

His third goal is restructuring economic policy. He sees himself as the champion of the poor and minorities in America. He has inserted himself into the middle of the Enron Corp. bankruptcy investigations.

He will be coming to Washington this week "to be representative of the victimization" that the Enron workers endured and to call on Congress to bail out the employees who lost their retirement funds in the company's collapse.

"If we can bail out American Airlines, if we can bail out Chrysler, if we can bail out multimillion-dollar national corporations," the U.S. can bail out Enron's employees, Sharpton said. "I think government has a responsibility to make them whole."

He won't accuse politicians in Washington who accepted Enron's political donations of being bought off by the company, but does accuse them of being "rented for a while."

New Republic magazine mocked his involvement in the Enron controversy. Writer Rob Walker wrote that Sharpton's role in Enron policy debate was "pure opportunism" that will turn the controversy "into a mere circus."

But Sharpton remains undaunted. He plans to enlist famed defense attorney Johnnie Cochran to defend Enron workers against the company and former executives.

Sharpton shrugs off any comparisons to his mentor, Jesse Jackson, who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984 and again in 1988.

"It's a new day. Rev. Jackson would have run 20 years ago if I run in 2004. I think it is just as limiting to say that I am replacing Jackson as it is to say [Senate plurality leader Tom] Daschle is replacing [1984 Democratic nominee Walter] Mondale. Different day, different era," he explained.

Sharpton denies any tension in his relationship with Jackson. The two first met in 1969, when Sharpton was a teenage minister. "I have no animosity toward Rev. Jackson, and if he has any toward me, I don't know what it would be based on," he said.

But Jackson may have revealed his frustration with Sharpton during a recent interview with New York Magazine, when he said that boxing promoter Don King's political support of Sharpton should be "exposed."

Sharpton countered. "I was a little surprised to read that, particularly since Don King supports [Jackson], supported him a lot longer than he did me. Last time I looked, there was nothing illegal about Don King giving money to anybody."

Sharpton welcomes many of the media outlets Jackson has shunned. Sharpton has appeared on the Fox News Channel and conservative talk radio programs. "I come from the school that says let's rumble and tussle. That's why I do everything from the O'Reilly report to network shows. It doesn't matter to me."

Larry J. Sabato, University of Virginia political analyst, believes Democrats should not underestimate Sharpton's political potential.

"Obviously, Al Sharpton is not a serious candidate for the nomination, but if he catches on in the African-American community in the primaries, it could be Jesse Jackson all over again," he told CNSNews.com.

Sabato says the eventual Democratic nominee could be weakened by Sharpton's campaign if Democratic voters split along racial lines.

"It is certainly possible he could get a decent slice of the black community in some states and localities. He can't be dismissed for that reason ... he has to be taken seriously because of the political implications of his candidacy."

Conservative columnist Cal Thomas calls Sharpton's possible bid for the presidency "great news for Republicans."

Thomas wrote in a recent column: "This is going to be fun, watching Democrats try not to offend Sharpton, while Sharpton offends just about everyone else with his outrageous rhetoric. Republicans could not come up with a better strategy if they had to invent Al Sharpton, the reverend without a church."

Sharpton is not selling himself short. He boasted to this reporter, "I expect you to interview me in the Oval Office in 2005."

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Some political analysts say Sharpton's potential bid for the Democratic presidential nomination must be taken seriously and could end up being great news for Republicans. Sharpton's biggest political liability may be the famous Tawana Brawley case from the late 1980s....
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Tuesday, 29 January 2002 12:00 AM
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