Inside Al Sharpton’s campaign

Tuesday, Sept. 23

TALKING PEACE What do you get when you cross a preacher, a congressman, and the Dalai Lama? I’m not sure, but definitely not war. Sharpton is scheduled to speak on a panel along with the Dalai Lama and fellow Democratic hopeful Rep. Dennis Kucinich today. The topic is the “Ethics and the Politics of Peace.”

Monday, Sept. 22


Sharpton unleashed a verbal assault over the weekend on his fellow Democratic hopefuls. He delivered a speech at the Louisiana Black Publishers Association conference in Alexandria: “Gen. Clark never held office, the new flavor of the month. ‘Well, he was a general in the army.’ Well, I was a general in another army. ... One of them said, ‘I talk race to whites.’ Well, the next question should’ve been: How long have you been doing that? Since you been a candidate?” Sharpton also criticized Democratic candidates who voted in favor of the war, but are now criticizing the Bush administration for not having a proper exit strategy. His most aggressive attacks were against “moderate” democrats. “These ... moderates, they’ve turned the party into pro-death penalty, pro-deregulation of business, pro-NAFTA, pro-Canada and other trade agreements. They’re the ones that lost the Congress in ’94, ’96, ’98, 2000, 2002. They’ve lost,” said Sharpton. He also made a prediction against campaigns working hard in New Hampshire and Iowa. “Nobody is looking at the map. This thing goes from Iowa to New Hampshire ... south. I don’t care who wins in Iowa or New Hampshire, they will not win in the South.” It will be interesting to see if Sharpton brings this same rhetoric to the national stage at Thursday’s CNBC/Wall Street Journal debate. The way I see it is if he does bring this language to the debate, major candidates (those polling in double digits) could be in a lose-lose situation. The reason is twofold. If these candidates try to get into a war of words with Sharpton, his quick wit will probably win over the audience, but if they try to ignore Sharpton’s attacks they could seem weak. We’ll have to wait till Thursday’s debate to find out.

Saturday, Sept. 20

SOUTHERN STRATEGY While other campaigns are working hard in states like New Hampshire and Iowa, the Sharpton campaign is busy down South. Sharpton arrived in New Orleans Friday afternoon and held an impromptu press conference at the airport. He spoke to the local media about his voter registration drive, as well as the relationship between African-Americans and the Democratic party. Sharpton attacked the President’s handling of the economy and the war. “He asked for $87 billion dollars for Iraq. He hasn’t asked for 2 cents for Louisiana,” said Sharpton. I asked Sharpton why his campaign was focusing on Southern states instead of the first primary states: “I was in Iowa and New Hampshire earlier in the year. Our strategy was to hit them early then concentrate on the second levels of primaries which is what I’m doing now, and go back there. ... now we are doing the Southern states and that’s because we just smarter.”

$500 GUMBO Sharpton kicked off his “Big Easy” trip with a bowl of gumbo at a fund-raiser at “Pampy’s Creole Kitchen.” The fund-raiser was a private event with only 20 guests invited. Nineteen showed up. At $500 a plate, Sharpton supporters got a chance to wine and dine with the reverend. “I think him being in the race for presidency will cause the other candidates to address black issues,” said David Sampson, who attended the dinner. “He talked about how important it is for people to listen to everyone, and I thought that made sense,” said Pampy, who owns the restaurant. It’s not exactly clear how much money was raised.

HALF-FULL OR HALF-EMPTY? Sharpton finished his day in a very familiar spot. He preached at the Life Center church on the west bank of New Orleans. The crowd really warmed up to Sharpton, shouting “Preach, preacher!” and “Go on, Rev.!” during Sharpton’s sermon. The problem was that the church was only half-full. Part of the reason was Sharpton’s campaign originally advertised the event asking for a $100 donation from anyone who wanted to attend. But later, the campaign had to remove the $100 donation because of federal tax laws.

Friday, Sept. 19


The Sharpton campaign is headed to Louisiana this weekend. Sharpton’s first stop is in the “Big Easy” on Friday afternoon. He has several campaign events that will take him throughout the city of New Orleans and into Alexandria. Sharpton is wasting no time in New Orleans. Immediately after his flight lands, he will hold a press conference at the airport to talk with local media about his campaign. Following the presser he heads to a fund-raiser then to a campaign rally. On Saturday, Sharpton will host another fund-raiser at the W Hotel in downtown New Orleans. He will then travel to Alexandria where he is speaking at the Louisiana Black Publisher’s Association conference. The campaign tells me that Rev. Jesse Jackson won the state of Louisiana in the 1988 Democratic primary and that they expect Sharpton to do the same. As I’ve reported before, an integral part of Sharpton’s campaign staff worked on Jackson’s ’84 and ’88 campaigns. So anytime I’m in a state that Jackson won, Sharpton’s people are quick to remind me that if “Jesse” did it, so can “Al.” Nearly everyone I’ve spoken to in New Orleans knows who Sharpton is, but most have mixed feelings. “I heard him call President Bush a gang leader,” said a cab driver who didn’t think highly of Sharpton. A man who told me he was a Democrat from Houma said he liked what Sharpton had to say but was skeptical of his chances against President Bush. The Louisiana Primary is March 9.

Thursday, Sept. 18

FROM NEW YORK TO NEW ORLEANS It’s a busy Friday for Sharpton. He’ll start the day meeting with ABC’s Peter Jennings and his staff in New York and then head off for fund-raisers in New Orleans tonight and tomorrow morning.

5 MORE FACTS ABOUT SHARPTON 1) He’s never been elected to public office. 2) He’s 48 years old. 3) He is the founder and director of the National Action Network. 4) Al is short for Alfred. 5) He’s a member of the Pentecostal Church.

Wednesday, Sept. 17


Sharpton, who on Tuesday served as a panelist at the National Association of Minorities in Cable’s annual conference, says there needs to be more diversity at the top of U.S. newsrooms. “I always say that if you go to one of the major networks or major newspapers, it’s like going to the Rocky Mountains: The higher up you get, the whiter it gets and you can’t argue that,” said Sharpton.

TODAY ON THE TRAIL The candidate stops in D.C. for private meetings with officials of the Service Employees International Union and a book party for CNN’s Tucker Carlson.

Tuesday, Sept. 16


1) He’s married with two daughters. 2) He was ordained a Pentecostal minister at the age of 10. 3) He says the biggest influence on his life was soul singer James Brown. 4) He calls Fidel Castro “a great leader,” “absolutely awesome” and “brilliant.” 5) Most of his suits are made by the same tailor who makes suits for the TV show “The Practice.”

TODAY ON THE TRAIL Sharpton has several events scheduled in New York City today, including an appearance on a panel about affirmative action at the annual conference of the National Association of Minorities in Cable.

Tuesday, September 9


The Reverend Al Sharpton not only made the debate on time, he made the debate... entertaining for some and important to others. “He changed the way I felt about him over the course of the debate,” said Kijana Mack, who attended the debate.

“He was really great,” said a journalist covering the campaigns.

“He addressed the issues that need to be addressed, I was very impressed,” said Edward Harris who was also in the crowd.

Sharpton not only delivered some of the more memorable lines from the debate, he also served as appointed sheriff. “This is a historical night and you will respect our right to be heard,” said Sharpton in response to sporadic protesters who started yelling during the debate.

Senator Joe Lieberman complemented Sharpton’s tough talk to the protesters with an “amen,” which prompted Sharpton to say “I’ll take that as an endorsement.” That line got laughs in both the auditorium and the press room.

When asked at the end of the debate what his favorite song was, Sharpton said it was a James Brown’s “Talking Loud, Saying Nothing” because it summed up his feelings on the Republican Party. As he was leaving the spin room I asked Sharpton if he could sing some lines from the song. He stopped in his tracks, turned to my camera, and said “at my inauguration.”


Don’t let anyone lie to you... the real star at Tuesday’s debate was the show “K Street.” George Clooney and his entourage of cameramen, producers and real-life Beltway insiders like James Carville had the media going ga ga all night. Time Magazine’s Joe Klein looked like it was the happiest day of his life as he was shaking George Clooney’s hand. My fellow embeds and I made sure we got the K Street action on video. I saw most embeds, like myself, following around Hollywood’s elite through the crowd while K Street was shooting portions of their HBO show. “I’m non partisan, man, I’m working on a show,” said Clooney when I asked him which candidate he was rooting for.


The most revealing question of the night had nothing to do with foreign or domestic policy. It was when the nine candidates were asked what was their favorite song. This question got a very unpleasant response from the press room, but it caught the candidates off guard. Most of the candidates had corny songs, and Rep. Dick Gephardt couldn’t even say Bruce Springsteen clearly (what’s more American than The Boss?). But for Dean, who mentioned a song he said most people didn’t know (Jaspora by Wyclef Jean), it was a homerun because it showed what appeared to be a real answer. Sharpton’s answer got the most cheers, but that’s because it was an attack on the Republican Party. It’s questions like “what’s your favorite song” that give the candidates a chance to show they are real people and not political robots with calculated answers for every question. It’s also a question that folks at home, who watched the debate, will bring to the water cooler the next morning.


I’m still waiting for a response from the Sharpton campaign on comments made by Sharpton in New York Magazine this week. The magazine reports Sharpton worries that Kucinich is “out on a weekend pass.” Usually that phrase is meant to describe someone who attends a mental hospital, but neither Sharpton nor New York magazine has gotten back to me on the comment. Fellow embed Karen Caifa reports on Kucinich’s reaction in her note.

Monday, September 8


The St. Louis Post Dispatch reports on Sharpton’s role in the school protest on Sunday and Monday.

“A contentious first day of school began Monday in St. Louis with a rally and march by more than 100 protesters seeking a boycott of classes over an interim management team’s decision to close 16 schools and lay off 1,400 workers.”

The Reverend Al Sharpton spoke to a crowd of over 250 at Central Baptist Church on Sunday night, and told them he stood with them in opposition to St. Louis’s school district policies.

The Post Dispatch reports that Sharpton also spoke at a pro-boycott rally on Monday morning. “I think that any parent would be irresponsible not to make sure their child is protected and that their child is serviced,” said Sharpton in response to protesters who suggested that keeping kids out of school was counterproductive. “The battle is not us against the school system. It’s the school system against us,” said Sharpton on Sunday night. Sharpton returned to New York City on Monday afternoon.

Sunday, September 7


The AP reports that Sharpton warned the Democratic Party on Saturday that it can’t treat black voters as its “mistress.” Sharpton was speaking at a dinner for executives from minority construction companies in Richmond, Virginia. “A mistress is where they take you out to have fun but they can’t take you home to mamma and daddy. Either we’re going to get married in 2004 or we’re going to find some folks who ain’t ashamed to be seen with us,” said Sharpton as reported by the AP. This is not the first time Sharpton has used the term “mistress” to describe the way he thinks black voters are treated. He uses the phrase sometimes in his stump speech.


Sharpton will head to St. Louis tonight for a rally planned on the eve of the first day of school. The AP reports that a move to close 16 schools and lay off 1,400 workers in St. Louis is sparking a boycott. Sharpton’s campaign says he will attend the boycott which is scheduled for Monday morning.


On missing the New Mexico debate: Sharpton says he will “more than make up for it” starting this Tuesday

On recent polls: “Every time that we’ve had a race the pollsters have been way off”

On which primary he will first win: He didn’t name a state but said he’d invite Chris and “Mrs. Matthews” to the White House.

Friday, September 5

THE SCHEDULE Sharpton returned to New York City on Friday for his daughter Ashley’s 16th birthday. He also appeared on MSNBC’s “Hardball with Chris Matthews.” On Saturday, he traveled to Richmond, Va., and on Sunday he was set to fly to St. Louis in support of a public school protest.

Thursday, September 4


The Reverend Al Sharpton did not make the DNC debate in Albuquerque on Thursday. His campaign manager Frank Watkins released this statement:

Rev. Al Sharpton regretfully will not be able to make it to the first DNC sanctioned presidential debate in Albuquerque, New Mexico because weather delayed his Delta #619 flight for two hours at New York’s LaGuardia Airport. He made it to Atlanta two hours late, but the connecting flight to New Mexico had already left and he was unable to arrange a private plane that would get him there on time.

Sharpton’s campaign originally told me that the private plane was to be chartered out of New York after the two hour delay, but he was able to make it to Atlanta on a commercial airliner. The DNC originally announced that Sharpton would arrive to the debate thirty minutes late, but minutes later said he would not be able to make it. Some of this Democratic rivals said they missed out on having Sharpton at the debate. “I miss him, he’s my buddy and I wish he was here,” said Representative Dennis Kucinich. “He’s a lot of fun and he’s contributed to the debate,” said Senator Joe Lieberman.

The DNC says Sharpton will definitely be at one of the upcoming debates. “I want all of our candidates to be here. I can assure you he’s gonna be, Sept. 25, in New York,” said DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe. Let’s hope there’s good weather.


After last night’s debate I asked the DNC to let me shoot video of Sharpton’s sign post, which was to be used during the “spin room” interviews. A DNC volunteer took me to a back room where Sharpton’s sign was. When the volunteer picked up the sign from the floor, directly behind it was a CLARK sign. It seems the DNC was prepping in case they had to add Gen. Wesley Clark to the debate. I did not, however, see any CLINTON signs.

Wednesday, September 3

CAMPAIGN DISCONNECT The Rev. Sharpton and his campaign manager Frank Watkins seem to be on a different page as far as strategy goes.

I reported yesterday that Sharpton was starting a new campaign strategy in which he will start criticizing his fellow Democratic rivals who voted in favor of the war. Today, I had a lengthy conversation with Watkins who told me that there was no change in Sharpton’s strategy. Watkins said Sharpton would not single out any of his rivals because the ultimate goal of the campaign besides winning was “to get rid of George Bush.”

But on Monday, Sharpton said the following to Merritt Dempsey from our Charleston affiliate WCBD during a noon newscast:

“I was the first candidate to oppose the war, much of what Mr. Dean and others are saying now I said a year ago in South Carolina, spoke at all the anti-war marches. The ideas that I think, one of the things we are going to have to bring front and center to the debate in New Mexico is we need to stop being hypocritical. You can’t vote, as some of the candidates have, to support the war and then say that you don’t agree with how Mister Bush now can’t get us out of Iraq when Lieberman, and Kerry, and Edwards voted to bring us in. Are you saying you voted to support a war that you didn’t ask the president how we were coming out? I don’t think that’s very responsible.”

We are going to have to wait and see if Sharpton brings this tough talk “front and center” to Thursday’s debate.


Sharpton spoke to South Carolina’s AFL-CIO members today at their annual Constitutional Convention in Myrtle Beach. Sharpton gave his South Carolina stump speech, highlighting the state’s high unemployment rates especially among African-Americans. He tweaked the speech for the union audience by speaking out against certain trade agreements that have taken jobs away from the unions. During the speech, Sharpton called state representative Joe Neil “Senator Joe Neil.” Sharpton quickly corrected himself, but not before getting some laughs in the room. Sharpton’s quick wit kicked into high gear and responded to the laughs saying it was a “Sharptonian slip,” which drove the entire room of union workers into excited laughs.

Sharpton was at the event on time, but when he was introduced he was late getting to the stage. The entire room got up for his introduction, but waited for a good 3-4 minutes before Sharpton actually entered the room and took the stage.

Tuesday, September 2


The Reverend Al Sharpton has started a new campaign strategy — attack. Not only President Bush, which he’s been doing since he started campaigning, but his fellow Democratic candidates who voted in favor of the war with Iraq. According to his campaign, expect Sharpton to possibly go after Lieberman, Edwards, Kerry and Gephardt during the debate in Albuquerque on Thursday. It’s not clear whether Sharpton will single out any of the four lawmakers.

Sharpton started some of these attacks over the weekend. “Well, where’s the money — if we got the money?” Sharpton asked in a sermon he preached this weekend. “We are in a national federal deficit, biggest deficit we ever had, how can you say we got the money? Where can we get it from? Well, where do we get $5 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan?”

Sharpton has been adamantly against the war and says President Bush used a “Boogiemen” tactic to scare the American people into war.

Monday, September 1


The Reverend Al Sharpton spent Labor Day with the International Longshoreman Association of Charleston. Sharpton was a keynote speaker at the ILA’s annual Labor Day picnic. The ILA is a union in Charleston which has over 2,000 members. Sharpton wasn’t the only campaigner in town. Kucinich, Kerry, and Dean volunteers were canvassing the picnic as well. Sharpton’s speech was cut short because of rain.

Labor Day starts a more intense phase of the campaign season and you could feel that at this picnic. As Sharpton was getting off the stage, an eager Kerry volunteer was getting on stage to speak about Kerry’s campaign.

Sharpton made an interesting entrance into the picnic. He was surrounded by kids who had been rounded up from the picnic, and they were each holding Sharpton campaign posters. The kids were yelling “Vote Reverend Sharpton” and “get Bush out of the White House.” The posters, which one volunteer told me she had never seen before, are your standard campaign posters which say “Sharpton 2004.”

After his speech Sharpton autographed each of the kids’ posters.


South Carolina’s largest newspaper “The State” has a must-read on Sharpton’s frequent visits to the state. Sharpton has visited the state more than any other Democratic presidential candidate, but one South Carolina political analyst says Sharpton doesn’t have a prayer.

Here’s a link:

Sharpton makes S.C. a second home

Democrat has visited state more than any other presidential hopeful

Sunday, August 31


The Rev. Al Sharpton says a new CBS poll proves he can balance the budget. The poll, which showed Sharpton and Sen. John Kerry tied for fourth place among the 9 Democrats, was released by CBS NEWS on Sunday.

“I’m ahead of people that have raised 50 to a 100 times more money. Which means I’m the candidate that has raised the least amount of money, [but I’m] number 4 in the poll, which proves I can balance the budget because I get the most mileage on the least amount of gas.”

I asked Sharpton about his reaction to growing reports that focus on the Dean-Kerry battle.

“Earlier this year it was an Edwards race. I don’t react to the press. Why don’t they read the polls? If it’s a Dean-Kerry race, and I’m tied with Kerry in the CBS poll, what kind of race is it now?”


Sharpton had two South Carolina churches on their feet, clapping their hands, saying “go on Rev.” Sharpton, not afraid to mix politics with religion during his sermons, spoke about his campaign, the situation in Iraq, and that CBS poll.

Sharpton also stressed the importance of voting. His staff was ready to register people after each of the services.

Speaking of staff... Sharpton’s campaign is new ground for most of his South Carolina staff.

“I’m training them on how to do a presidential campaign,” says campaign veteran Kevin Gray, who is responsible for Sharpton’s South Carolina run.

Friday, August 29


The Reverend Al Sharpton says he buys his suits from a Beverly Hills tailor who charges $800 to $1,400 per suit. Sharpton gave Peter Rubin from GQ magazine his wardrobe secrets in an article called “How to Dress Like a President.”

“With me, a lot of people are looking for a 300-pound guy in a jogging suit, and they get a 213-pound guy with a tailor-made suit that actually fits,” Sharpton says.

Sharpton says he’s the most stylish of the nine Democratic contenders.

“I think I probably bring more style to the field than the other candidates,” Sharpton said. “John Kerry always appears like he thought about what he was going to wear that morning. But I wouldn’t say he’s got style like I do.”

It’s interesting that Sharpton can boast about his sharp suits, while his campaign reported last quarter it had only $12,000 on hand.

This month, a Manhattan travel agency said Sharpton and his National Action Network stiffed them for almost $200,000. Sharpton denies the claim and says he will file a criminal complaint against the travel agency.


The Sharpton campaign is in South Carolina this weekend. Sharpton spent Friday preaching and campaigning. Sharpton’s South Carolina campaign coordinator was unavailable for an interview, and Sharpton’s campaign manager had not spoken to Sharpton or his South Carolina staff. At 8:45 p.m. Sharpton’s campaign manager, Frank Watkins, was still not clear what the schedule was for tomorrow.


Saturday, August 30



Sunday, August 31

Sycamore, S.C., Allendale County

11a.m., Revelation Ministries

2 p.m., Dr. Michael Addison


Charleston, S.C.

5 p.m., Mount Zion AME Zion Church

Monday, September 1 (Labor Day)

Charleston, S.C.

Noon, International Longshoresman Union Picnic

1:30-2 p.m., speech, James Island County Park

Thursday, August 28

REMEMBERING THE MARCH The Reverend Al Sharpton marched Thursday arm-in-arm with a crowd of 300 in memory of the “March on Washington.” The crowd marched from downtown Atlanta into Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s childhood neighborhoods.

The original march saw 250,000 people from across the country meet in the nation’s capital for a call to justice and freedom.

Thursday’s crowd heard Sharpton unveil his education plan which he outlined in a speech during the memorial. “He said it went well,” said Sharpton campaign manager, Fred Watkins, who did not attend the event but spoke to Sharpton after the speech.

GOING DOWN SOUTH The Sharpton camp will start a week-long blitz on South Carolina and other parts of the South tomorrow. He will be in South Carolina for most of this weekend and much of next week. He will also hit states like Alabama. The Sharpton blitz will be unique because not only will it involve a lot of campaigning, but also a whole lot of preaching. Expect the Reverend to balance his time on the pulpit with time spent speaking to different voting groups. Sharpton will visit around 10 cities in South Carolina alone.

This is what’s on his schedule, but as MSNBC’s Jerry Nachman pointed out yesterday, nothing is set in stone.

Wednesday, August 27


Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s wife Coretta Scott King requested that the Reverend Al Sharpton deliver Thursday’s speech commemorating the 40th anniversary of the “March on Washington.” The 1963 march is most remembered for King’s “I have a dream” speech. Sharpton’s speech will be twofold, remembering King’s legacy, but also unveiling Sharpton’s education plan.


The foundation of Sharpton’s education plan would add an amendment to the constitution guaranteeing every citizen the “Right to a Public Education of Equal High Quality.” This means not only providing education, but eliminating disparities between school districts. In the speech, Sharpton highlights the disparities between public schools in affluent neighborhoods with those in lower income neighborhoods. He draws examples with education figures from New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago. Sharpton ends the speech arguing an increase to the average per student expenditure and funding levels of impoverished school districts will jump start the economy while creating more jobs.

Tuesday, August 26


The Reverend Al Sharpton is preparing to release his educational plan. In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Sharpton will make the announcement on Thursday at the Ebeneezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. Ebeneezer was King’s hometown church and Thursday will mark the 40th anniversary of the “March on Washington,” where King delivered his famous “I have a dream” speech.

Sharpton says if he is elected president, he would push for a “Right to a Public Education” amendment. This idea was first introduced in Congress by U.S. Rep. Jesse L. Jackson, D-IL.

Click here for more info on this proposed amendment.


Sharpton released a statement Tuesday attacking the president’s handling of the economy. The comments came after the Congressional Budget Office released its bi-annual budget and economic report projecting a federal budget deficit of $480 billion in 2004.

Invoking statements make by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Sharpton said King was incorrect to say America keeps issuing a note that comes back marked “insufficient funds.” Sharpton says America had and has sufficient funds, but now the president has “Bush-whacked” those funds by “tax cuts for the rich, multi-national corporations and war.”

When asked about the U.S.’s rising gas prices, Sharpton responded in a statement saying that a rise in gas prices was a direct result from America’s dependency on oil. He went on to say that the working-class will end up paying more at the pumps while receiving “nothing from the billions that have been reaped by this oil-based economy.”

MSNBC’s Tommy Llamas is embedded with the presidential campaign of civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton.