Sharpton Is Upbeat on S.C. Showing

Times Staff Writer

The Rev. Al Sharpton, who brought a message of black empowerment to the voters of South Carolina and spent more time here than any of his opponents, on Tuesday garnered less than 20% of the state’s African American vote and 10% overall.

He placed third here behind North Carolina Sen. John Edwards and Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kerry. It was Sharpton’s best finish in the day’s seven state contests.

“I would think that’s disappointing for Rev. Sharpton,” said Bob Wislinski, a local Democratic strategist. “But African American Democrats, like white Democrats, want someone who can beat Bush. He couldn’t rise above the electability issue.”


Sharpton, however, reacted to the South Carolina outcome with optimism, bombast and a shading of the facts to his advantage.

The results, he said, “are a great boost to our campaign when you look at the fact that I ... came to the South -- to an unfamiliar terrain -- with no TV money, no paid staff, and was able to do double-digits. I doubled Howard Dean, I beat Wesley [K.] Clark, I beat Joe Lieberman. No one can deny I did better than expected.”

Polls had predicted that Sharpton would earn about 5% of the vote here. In previous campaigns, for New York mayor and for the U.S. Senate, he also fared better than expected.

But South Carolina is hardly unfamiliar terrain for the Northern Democrat. In speeches and sermons here, Sharpton regularly reminded voters that he had visited the state dozens of times over the last few years.

In an interview Tuesday night, he reiterated how deep his commitment to South Carolina had been.

“I came about 25 to 30 times without any big names, with no big support, and was able to take 10% of the vote away. I couldn’t have done any better.”

The candidate, who has emphasized that he wants to earn delegates during the primary season in order to have bargaining power at the Democratic National Convention in Boston in July, appeared to have won none in South Carolina; he did get one delegate in Delaware.

Sharpton -- who pointed to endorsements from local black elected officials, including a Republican city councilman in Charleston -- said he was able to exceed expectations “even though every black leader, from members of Congress to local black officials, told blacks to vote against me.”

Democratic Rep. James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, an African American lawmaker whose endorsement was much sought after, supported Kerry. Exit polls showed that Edwards and Kerry each received one-third of the black vote, with the rest scattered among the other candidates.

“The black vote is not monolithic,” said Joe Erwin, the state Democratic Party chairman. “But I think [Sharpton has] been very good for this campaign.... And he is saying the right things.”

Sharpton spent Tuesday visiting polling places, including the Second Nazareth Baptist Church in a down-at-the-heels neighborhood of Columbia, where half a dozen homeless men and women were holding his campaign signs.

Angela Hair, 38, said someone had come to the Hampton Winter Shelter offering $50 for 12 hours of work for Sharpton. She had just finished a two-week stint working for Dean, whose campaign paid her $30 for a six-hour day.

When asked about hiring people to hold signs, Sharpton replied: “I wanted to give them a day’s work. I probably brought more employment to them than any candidate in the state.”