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THE RACE TO THE WHITE HOUSE

Sharpton Talks of Conditional Exit

The New York minister may drop out if Kerry addresses an 'urban agenda' and agrees to help retire his $600,000 campaign debt.

March 05, 2004|James Rainey | Times Staff Writer

The Rev. Al Sharpton may soon drop his longshot campaign for the presidency if presumptive Democratic nominee John F. Kerry agrees to adopt a more pronounced "urban agenda," sources in Sharpton's camp said Thursday.

Sharpton confirmed in a telephone interview that representatives of his campaign have talked to the Democratic National Committee and Kerry operatives about how he might "fold into" a campaign to defeat President Bush.

Nursing a cold at his home in Brooklyn, Sharpton said the discussions with Kerry's campaign had just begun and that he planned to continue his candidacy for the time being. A trip to Florida this weekend was likely.

"I don't know if 'discontinue' is the word I would use," said Sharpton, referring to his candidacy. "But clearly, from the beginning, our intention was to go out and affect policy. It was always a matter of how we would fold into an anti-Bush campaign. That was always part of the plan."

Although Sharpton sounded somewhat equivocal about his plans, one aide said it was clear the discussions with the Kerry camp were designed to end with Sharpton "suspending the campaign operations."

Sharpton said he wanted Kerry, the Massachusetts senator, to adopt a stronger stance on a number of issues, including advocating a greater role for the federal government in combatting police brutality and racial profiling.

Sharpton would also like Kerry's help in retiring a campaign debt that stands at about $600,000, campaign sources said. The minister and civil rights activist, in turn, would attempt to steer his donors toward Kerry during the general election race.

With his pithy answers and humorous barbs, Sharpton became an ad-libbing star in the Democrats' debates.

He told voters he was intent on "slapping the donkey" into action -- goading the party into a more vivid invocation of the liberal agenda.

But he has been less than successful winning votes and delegates -- most recently placing third in his native New York, well behind Kerry and North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, who officially withdrew from the race Wednesday. Sharpton collected 21 delegates in 30 primaries and caucuses, not enough to demand the pivotal role he had once hoped to play in this summer's Democratic National Convention.

The onetime "boy preacher" has such a potent voice, however, that Kerry and his supporters would prefer not to alienate him heading into what is expected to be a close November election against President Bush.

The Kerry camp did not respond to a request for comment about Sharpton on Thursday.

It remained unclear what Kerry would have to do to shoo Sharpton out of the race.

Sharpton went on at length when asked what issues he wanted Kerry to focus on.

"There must be a firm commitment on affirmative action, on police misconduct nationwide and on how the federal government would deal with that," he said. "And on African policy and Caribbean policy and Haiti in particular, and on public education and healthcare ... and on dealing with the whole question of unilateral engagement, like we have in Iraq."

Sharpton, 49, said he would also like Kerry to commit in the fall campaign to hiring more minority staffers, to buying advertising and services from minority-owned firms and to buying ads on black and Latino-oriented radio and television programs.

"We can't ignore media outlets that hit these communities and cause turnout to increase," Sharpton said.

He said he would not insist on any personal role in Kerry's campaign, adding: "I would take whatever role is conducive to winning."

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