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By Dick Morris


June 14, 2003
Saturday - 12:05 am


Will civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton be the Ralph Nader of 2004? Sharpton, now running for the Democratic nomination for president knows he can't win his party's nod, but he 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, making a statement that the average six year old knows isn't true. "The question is: Will the other candidates support me after I win the nomination!"

In a recent campaign appearance at Washington and Lee University, the school in the heartland of the old Confederacy, Sharpton refused to rule out a run for president as a third party candidate. Speaking in front of Lee Chapel, where the Civil War general lies buried, Sharpton pounded away at the Democratic Party for trying to copy the Republicans and failing to stand up for the needs of the poor. "We already have one Republican Party," he told the largely white student body, "we don't need another one."

Bush came in for only passing criticism in his speech. It was the Clintons who 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 of New York in 2002 and angry that the Democratic Party takes the black vote for granted, Sharpton may want to teach the party establishment a lesson they have long forgotten - that a black candidate can run as an independent and cost them the White House. If Nader can turn the party upside down by getting three percent of the national vote, imagine the bargaining power Sharpton would have if he can demonstrate that he can win five or six percent - half of the black vote.

Hearing Sharpton, seeing Sharpton, and sharing the platform with Sharpton, I developed the clear impression that he's in the race to stay. He's not getting out when he loses the nomination. 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 as a Congressional Democrat, has laid down. Al sees an opening and is determined to seize it.

But why else is Sharpton running but to lay the basis for a November candidacy? His message: that the Democratic Party takes "African-Americans for granted," resonates well in the black community. But the Reverend must realize that his is far too polarizing a candidacy to attract much white support.

If Jesse Jackson, at the height of his popularity in the late eighties couldn't win the nomination, how could Sharpton, who is less well known and less credible among whites, ever hope to do so?

Sharpton knows there can't be much mileage in another losing effort to win his party's nomination for public office. He's been there and done that. Merely trotting around the party debating circuit showcasing his message can't have much future in it. If all he does is to repeat the path trodden so many times before by Jackson, what advantage is there in it for Sharpton?

It is only by demonstrating to the Democratic Party establishment that they cannot take the black vote for granted - and being the bearer of that message by an independent run in '04 - that Sharpton can acquire the national stature he craves and the power he seeks.

It doesn't take a genius to see that the Democrats don't have much chance anyway in 2004. Now would be the perfect time for Sharpton to demonstrate 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.

Dick Morris is a political consultant, commentator and best selling author. Look for Dick's newest book, "Power Plays" available now.

Copyright 2003 Dick Morris - Distributed by Cagle Cartoons, Inc. to subscribers for publication.


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