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THE RACE TO THE WHITE HOUSE

Sharpton Gives Kerry a Partial Endorsement, Stays in Contest

Candidate says he will support the presumed nominee but wants to push his urban agenda.

March 16, 2004|Matea Gold and James Rainey | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — The Rev. Al Sharpton endorsed Sen. John F. Kerry for president Monday. So to speak.

Sharpton, one of three candidates left in the Democratic presidential race, preferred to say he would "support" the Massachusetts senator in his expected general election showdown with President Bush.

But for now, the Brooklyn minister will continue to campaign for votes in upcoming Democratic primaries and caucuses.

After meeting for half an hour with Kerry at Kerry's downtown headquarters here, Sharpton told reporters, "I intend to continue my campaign ... to keep the issues of an urban agenda [moving] forward, by electing delegates and appealing to other delegates."

Sharpton said he had established a rapport with Kerry in the last year and considered him "a good man."

But he will not drop out of the race, he said, because he wants to continue to focus on urban schools, healthcare, police misconduct and other issues.

More pragmatically, a senior Democratic operative noted, Sharpton's ongoing campaign will make him eligible for public matching funds and maintain his presence on the national stage.

Sharpton has $600,000 in campaign debt, some of it money he has loaned his own campaign committee. Though federal election officials recently recommended that he receive $100,000 in matching funds, they also suggested they might not pay out the money if they found that Sharpton violated laws limiting what candidates can loan themselves.

The onetime boy preacher has made a strong mark during the Democratic race with his highflying rhetoric and quick wit.

Entertainment industry figures have said they think Sharpton's provocative debate performances have made him a salable commodity. He has hired an agent, who has begun discussions about the possible launch of a radio or television talk show, or even a "reality" television show.

Sharpton's campaign manager, Charles Halloran, said it was unclear how much the candidate would continue to campaign and at what point he would shift to campaigning for Kerry.

"I don't know how much time he will have," Halloran said. "He's got a lot of TV and radio offers to deal with."

About two weeks ago, the Sharpton and Kerry campaigns began discussing how they might dovetail. When the candidates emerged from their meeting Monday, they smiled and shook hands.

"I informed him that I think that clearly he has won the nomination, and as I have stated during the race, I will support the nominee," Sharpton said. "I think that it's, in my judgment, bad strategically and bad for the country to engage in continuing to attack or in any way differentiate with him through the primaries that remain. It would only help George Bush, since he is the nominee."

The senator, indicating that he is willing to give voice to some of Sharpton's concerns on issues, accepted the quasi-endorsement.

"As Al Sharpton has pointed out so many times, in so many places, this administration's policy toward America's cities has been one of neglect.... " Kerry said.

"Al Sharpton and I agree on the need for a real urban agenda that brings change and progress to America's cities."

Sharpton, a civil rights activist, has issued some of the most memorable one-liners of the televised presidential debates. He has been less successful mounting a national campaign, with infrequent and haphazardly scheduled events and an uneven effort at the kind of grass-roots organization that brings out voters.

He has collected 26 delegates in 36 primaries and caucuses -- far less than the 2,162 needed to win the party nomination and not enough to demand the pivotal role he had hoped to play in this summer's Democratic National Convention.

Of the somewhat confusing almost-endorsement announcement, one aide said it was just Sharpton being Sharpton: "Wouldn't you expect it to be just a little bit different?"

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Gold reported from Washington and Rainey from Los Angeles.

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