Saturday, December 13, 2003

Confident Sharpton launches his Ohio campaign

By Kevin Aldridge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

EVANSTON - The Rev. Al Sharpton launched his Ohio presidential campaign in Cincinnati on Friday, confident he can overcome national polls that have him trailing in the nine-candidate battle for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, buoyed by former Vice President Al Gore's endorsement this week, leads his fellow Democrats in nearly every major political poll. His first test will be Jan. 19 in Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucus.

Sharpton spent the day making TV and radio appearances. While touting his run for the Democratic nomination, the New York minister and civil rights activist used his sharp wit and sense of humor to dismiss criticisms of his political inexperience.

Sharpton insisted he could win the White House.

"Not only can I win, but I'm the only candidate that you can't lose with," Sharpton said in a WCIN radio interview. "At least with me, we (African-Americans) can get the issues important to us out there.

"You're wasting your vote if you are voting for people who don't stand up for you."

This week, Sharpton has gone on the offensive against Dean. The front-runner, considered by many as the probable Democratic nominee, has been hiding a conservative record, Sharpton said.

"Will the real Howard Dean please stand up?" Sharpton asks in a written statement.

Sharpton, a political protege of the Rev. Jesse Jackson, a Democratic presidential candidate in 1984 and 1988, has said Dean opposes affirmative action, supports the death penalty and appointed conservative judges while serving as Vermont's governor.

"Don't waste your vote," Sharpton told Cincinnati supporters Friday. He also said Friday's visit was his third since 2001.

"I'm one of the few candidates who can say I came here when you needed me,'' he said.

The visit was more than political barnstorming for the 49-year-old Brooklyn native and father of two daughters.

He had dinner at the Evanston Community Center with about 60 contributors, who raised more than $5,000 for Sharpton's campaign.

He shook hands and swapped stories at a Norwood bookstore while autographing copies of his new book, Al on America. More than 200 showed up for the signing.

He also spent part of the day lashing out at the Cincinnati Police Department and the "disturbing" struggle that left Nathaniel Jones dead.

"Police have the right to defend themselves, but at what point do you go from defense to offense?" Sharpton said. "There had to be a point when he was no longer a threat."

Sharpton said he saw nothing on the police videotape that justified the officers' violent response. He also criticized those who used the fact that Jones had drugs in his system as an excuse for the incident.

Sharpton's viewpoints earned points with some in Cincinnati.

"He's a role model," said Kevin Paschal, 41 of Winton Place and a Long Island native. "When we have issues, he's not afraid to step up and confront those issues. I don't always have to agree with somebody's perspective on everything to support them.''

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