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CNN American Morning Transcript

Location: Columbia, SC

February 3, 2004 Tuesday

HEADLINE: Interview with Rev. Al Sharpton

GUESTS: Rev. Al Sharpton

BYLINE: Soledad O'Brien

Sharpton discusses his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. He says his campaign is about using your vote to put forward what you want done in the Democratic process and discusses his long-term strategy for change through the electoral process.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: South Carolina is a key battleground for the Reverend Al Sharpton. It is the first real test of his political strength and a state with a large African-American population. So just how competitive can he be?

Reverend Sharpton joins us this morning from Columbia, South Carolina.

Nice to see you, Reverend Sharpton.

Thanks for being with us on AMERICAN MORNING.


Good morning.

Good morning.

O'BRIEN: You have spent a lot of time in South Carolina and many people predicted that you would make a strong showing. And yet the poll numbers are not reflecting that. The latest poll numbers, that is.

Are you worried?

SHARPTON: Not at all. I mean it's according to what poll you look at. Some polls have us up, some down. I spent yesterday touring six cities. I think that we will win delegates here, which is what this is all about. And I think that a lot of people are saying that I don't want to be between guys that may, if they don't win a primary, pull out. I want to be with someone that will bring my issues to the convention.

So I think a lot of people not only in South Carolina, but in Missouri and Delaware, will be voting for Al Sharpton because this is not about wasting your vote guessing on a winner. It's about using your vote to put forward what you want done by the democratic process.

O'BRIEN: So you're saying that voters should look at you and say it's not necessarily about who's going to be the next president of the United States as about having your voice reflected when it comes to the convention?

SHARPTON: Well, it's not only that. It's about the only way we're going to win is if we expand this party, get more people involved in the party than was involved before. You can't go back on the field with the same team and expect to win with the same strategy.

So, yes, I can win enough delegates to become the nominee. You do it one primary at a time. We will win delegates in South Carolina today. I believe we will win in Missouri and Delaware, delegates. And I think as you build the delegate strategy, that is more important than some sweepstakes game.

A lot of my opponents are saying I have to win this to stay in. Well, if I was a voter, why would I want to sponsor a guy that may drop out on me? Where's my voice? Where is the worth of my vote?

O'BRIEN: At the same time, isn't there a point where if you only get a tiny percentage of these delegates that you say you can win, that you have to look at the results and say you can't go forward?

SHARPTON: Well, but, again, you're assuming they're going to be tiny and, secondly, you're assuming that we're not going all the way to the convention and be able to negotiate everything from platforms to why this party has abandoned working class people and people of color and women.

I went yesterday to Georgetown. Six hundred workers laid off. They not only want a new president, they want the party to defend the fact that we, because of free trade agreements, have lost jobs here in South Carolina.

So I think politicians are more caught up on their careers than people are caught up on their lives. I'm running to help people's lives. Others are running to bolster their career.

O'BRIEN: Do you think to some degree, though, you're doing a disservice to the party when you take away the focus from one or two people, maybe you and other people, as well, who are not the front runners take away the focus...

SHARPTON: No, I think, I think that...

O'BRIEN: ... and remove people from supporting one or two people?

SHARPTON: I think that that's absurd. I think that, first of all, the assumption then is that one or two people's career is more important than the feelings and the needs of the people in the electorate, so that people should therefore abandon the fact that we have unemployment, no health insurance, that the schools are not working. That doesn't matter. We need to look at one or two guys that want to be president? That's more important?

I think that's why we've been losing support in the Democratic Party. I think that's why we ended up with Bush in the first place.

If we're going to get rid of Bush, we are going to have to start making people the priority. That is the problem. We have a beltway mentality that's saying my career and my advancement is more important than lifting the people.

If we lift the people they will lift us.

O'BRIEN: But isn't the reverse argument to that, though, sir, that you're basically splintering all these voters so you're not amassing a strong power behind one person?

SHARPTON: But how are you splintering voters, Soledad, if you're bringing them into the party, many of whom wouldn't be voting at all? There are people today in South Carolina and Missouri and Delaware that are voting for Al Sharpton that would not have voted because people are not speaking for them. You're not splintering the party, you're stopping the party from splintering the American electorate that wants to be represented.

The assumption is that these people would be coming out voting for one of these people anyway. That is not true. We had a rally last night, a gospel rally last night. We had over 1,500 people there. Many of these people wouldn't come out to a rally for other candidates. So if anything, it will help the party because unless the party can get new energy and new people, the party can't win.

I remind you, this morning the party does not control the House of Representatives, the Senate or the White House. The party's strategy has not worked so far. A new strategy can resurrect the party. The party is already dead.

O'BRIEN: Reverend Al Sharpton joining us this morning.

Good luck to you today.

SHARPTON: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: We'll be checking in with you to see how you do.

Thanks for being with us.

Also, stay with CNN tonight for results of those seven Democratic contests. Our special coverage begins at 7:00 Eastern. We're going to have complete results tomorrow on AMERICAN MORNING.

Content and programming Copyright 2004 Cable News Network Transcribed under license by FDCH e-Media, Inc.

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