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Kucinich, Sharpton stay on the trail

Democrats John Kerry and John Edwards may be in a two-man race for the party’s presidential nomination, but somebody forgot to tell Dennis Kucinich and Al Sharpton.
/ Source: Reuters

Democrats John Kerry and John Edwards may be in a two-man race for the party’s presidential nomination, but somebody forgot to tell Dennis Kucinich and Al Sharpton.

The two longshots are still campaigning, still trying to raise money and still participating in debates — and still drawing sporadic support in the race to find a Democratic challenger to President Bush.

Kucinich, the Ohio congressman, scored his best finish of the race Tuesday with a solid second place in Hawaii, his second double-digit showing in 20 state contests. Sharpton’s best finish was a distant second place in the District of Columbia.

While six of their former rivals have pulled the plug on their lagging campaigns, Kucinich and Sharpton, a civil rights activist, plan to stick with it all the way to the party’s nominating convention in July.

Their low-overhead, low-expectation campaigns require little money and few staff, but offer perfect platforms to score political points and heighten their profiles.

“For the others, once their funds dry up it becomes too much of a hard slog,” said Charles Halloran, campaign manager for Sharpton, whose campaign had $1,039 in the bank at the end of January, debts of nearly $500,000 and unpaid staff salaries dating back to May.

'Not like turning a battleship'
“Our campaign can continue with just a few dollars. It’s not like turning a battleship,” Halloran said. “We’ve got a few offices and a handful of committed staff. As long as he’s standing and speaking, he will continue to campaign.”

Without the burden of meeting expectations or worrying about committing gaffes, running for president has its pleasures, said John Pitney, a professor at California’s Claremont McKenna College.

“You get all the fun of a presidential campaign without any of the angst,” he said. “And you don’t have to worry that when it’s over someone will hand you the nuclear football.”

Kucinich refused to entertain the notion that he might not win and blamed media “arrogance” for trying to winnow the field early and preordain the Democratic outcome.

“I don’t need your permission to run,” he said in an interview. “I’m in this race and I’m going to stay in this race. I’ve charted a course that is clearly one the Democrats can win on.”

Kucinich said front-runner Kerry and main rival Edwards were too close to Bush’s position on issues like the Iraq war to be effective critics. He said he can make the case against the president more effectively.

“Unless Democrats can establish a clear difference on critical issues they are going to have a tough time winning the White House,” Kucinich said, saying constant media references to the Democrats’ “two-man race” were “a problem for journalistic integrity, not my problem.”

Sharpton has 16 delegates
Sharpton, who has won 16 delegates to July’s nominating convention by targeting urban areas with large black populations, hopes to pick up more delegates next week and wield some influence at the convention, Halloran said.

“To walk away early is not in his nature,” he said of Sharpton, who has been criticized for staying in expensive hotels while his campaign is deep in debt. “It’s important that he pushes on ... but he wants the eventual nominee to know he will be with him all the way.”

Sharpton said he believed he could serve as a progressive counter-balance to Ralph Nader, who on Sunday announced an independent White House bid that Democrats fear could siphon left-wing votes away from their nominee.

“The party cannot silence voices and then not give credence to someone like Nader,” Sharpton said on CNN. “The fact that the party has respected other voices, and we’re in the debates, and we’re winning delegates, means that one can legitimately say to Mr. Nader, ‘What is your point?”’

Both candidates have had moments in the spotlight during joint Democratic presidential debates. In Iowa, Sharpton challenged one-time front-runner Dean on his hiring record in Vermont, while Kucinich confronted moderator Ted Koppel in New Hampshire for questions that focused on why he was staying in the race.

Both will participate in debates Thursday in Los Angeles and Sunday in New York City, providing another platform for their views in what could be the final days of the Democratic campaign.