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CNN CROSSFIRE

Al Sharpton Live From New York

Aired December 8, 2003 - 16:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

AL SHARPTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Live from New York, it's CROSSFIRE!
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, James Carville and Paul Begala; on the right, Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson.

In the CROSSFIRE: He keeps the Democratic debates lively.

SHARPTON: Probably the best person I have met in the campaign to party with, Mrs. Kerry. I'm sorry.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

ANNOUNCER: He also got plenty of laughs on "Saturday Night Live."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

SHARPTON: People ask me, Al, why open a sushi restaurant? Well, presidential campaign don't finance themselves, people.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: But, seriously, is there more to Al Sharpton's presidential campaign than one-liners? We'll ask him.

Plus, a look inside our moving campaign studio, the CNN Election Express -- today on CROSSFIRE.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Live from New York, Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: The CNN Election Express has rolled into Midtown Manhattan. Waiting for us here, New York's favorite son, an American folk hero. He's running for president now. He's the star of "Saturday Night Live," the Reverend Al Sharpton. (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Of course, this is just the first stop on the CNN Election Express as we crisscross the country, seeing what Americans think and talking to candidates. Tomorrow, we'll be in New Hampshire talking to General Wesley Clark. And the next day, we'll be in New Hampshire, also talking to Senator John Edwards, another leading Democrat.

But we begin today with the man who stole the show on "Saturday Night Live," the Reverend Al Sharpton.

Reverend, welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

SHARPTON: Thank you. Thank you. Glad to be here.

CARLSON: Thank you, Reverend.

Now, your ratings on "Saturday Night Live," I believe, were the highest this season. So I want you to contrast those with your national poll numbers, which are not the highest this season. They're in Kucinich territory. Are you in the wrong business?

SHARPTON: No.

I think that what the ratings show is that people voted Saturday night by turning the channel. We don't know what's going on happen when the votes come in, when I have actual numbers. You are talking about forecasts with polling. We are talking about actual numbers Saturday night. So, if I was an opponent, I'd be nervous, because if all of these people want to watch me, maybe a lot of those people are going to vote for me.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

SHARPTON: That won't be a poll. That will be actual numbers. So watch out, Republicans. We're on our way.

BEGALA: Well, Reverend, let me ask you about the show, "Saturday Night Live." I watched it. I have to say, I thought you were great.

SHARPTON: Thank you.

BEGALA: You were wonderful.

In the opening scene, they send you out there on your own, right? It's not written by the comedy writers. It's not a skit. And you did a song-and-dance number I think inspired by maybe your godfather, the godfather of soul, James Brown.

SHARPTON: Right.

BEGALA: It just stole -- take a look at it and let the audience take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE") SHARPTON: Hold on. Just because I don't wear flashy suits and gold medallions, it doesn't mean I still can't get down.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: You're an old man.

SHARPTON: Not too old to do this. Hit it!

(singing): I feel good.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

SHARPTON (singing): I knew that I would.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

SHARPTON (singing): I feel good. I knew that I would. Hey! So good! So good. I got you. I feel nice

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BEGALA: Well, you've been in the public eye maybe 20 years. That's the first time I've seen that kind of talent. Why have you been hiding it?

(LAUGHTER)

SHARPTON: Well, no.

I mean, I did it for several reasons. James Brown, as you know, Paul, helped raise me. In fact, I just came into the city today. He was honored last night at the Kennedy Center. But, also, James Brown has been the bedrock of hip-hop. And part of the basis of my voter registration draft has been to register the hip-hop generation.

So, even though it looks funny, it relates to a segment of voters that we're trying to energize to get the vote that I think could be the swing vote for the Democratic Party. If we can get the hip-hop generation registered -- and many of them listen to raps every day where James Brown is sampled, there's a method to my madness, because they relate to a James Brown sound and hopefully will relate to those of us that understand that sound and bring that into the political arena.

It's sort of what Bill Clinton did when he played the sax on "Arsenio Hall." We can relate...

BEGALA: Those were my sunglasses, by the way,

SHARPTON: Those were your shades. So -- those were my shoes I was dancing with, though.

(LAUGHTER)

CARLSON: Well, I should just remind our viewers who the know that you in fact cut a record with James Brown in 1981. I have it. It's a 45, terrific tune. SHARPTON: God has smiled on me.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: That's true. Amen.

The other candidate in this race who believes he's the candidate of the future and speaks for young people is, of course, Howard Dean. I want to read something you said about Howard Dean a little over a month ago. This is in response to an endorsement he received from Jesse Jackson Jr. You said -- I'm quoting now -- "Any so-called African-American leader that would endorse Dean despite his anti-black record is mortgaging the future of our struggle for civil rights and social justice."

You believe Howard Dean has a -- quote -- "anti-black record"?

SHARPTON: No, I believe that some of the things he's done has not been helpful.

I think that he had a position against race being a factor in African-American. I think he made very derogatory remarks against welfare recipients. He has since clarified them, to the point that I have said, if he were to beat me, I would support him and I hope he would do the same with me. But I think he had to be held accountable. Unlike President Bush, who has not changed his position on Bob Jones University, who has not changed his position on critical issues, I think that Dean was held accountable, did answer when we raised it.

I still have questions that I'll raise throughout the campaign, but I don't feel that this is something that is unhealthy.

CARLSON: Wait. But this is not...

SHARPTON: I think it is very healthy for the party.

CARLSON: With all due respect, this is not a question that you're asking. It's a statement you're making. You make him sound like Bull Connor. "He has an anti-black record." Are you saying he's totally changed now?

SHARPTON: No, no.

I said that he answered the questions -- some of the questions that I asked. I said from the beginning I didn't think Howard Dean was a bigot, but I think some of the things he represented was not in the interest of people of color. And I continue to raise points. But I also say that all of the candidates are better than the opposition.

And I think that one of the things that this primary season is about is clarify what this party will stand for and who this party will stand for. And I think that we take care of that in the process. That's why you have a convention before you have an election. When we straighten all of that of that out in the convention, I hope to be the nominee. But if I'm not, it will strengthen us to go into November to have the moral authority and consistency to challenge George Bush. One of reasons that I challenged Howard Dean on the Confederate flag is, we can't, in 2000, tell Bush he can't reach out by going to Bob Jones University, but then let Dean say it's all right to sanitize those that have the Confederate flag. He apologized for that. He showed a maturity there that we have not seen from your side of the political spectrum, Tucker.

BEGALA: But, Reverend, on our side of the political spectrum, just yesterday, Congressman Bobby Scott, an African-American leader from Virginia, endorsed Howard Dean. Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., from Chicago, endorsed Howard Dean. And today, in your city of New York, as many as 20 city council members are going to be endorsing Dean. Isn't he starting to pick up in the African-American community?

SHARPTON: Well, I don't -- I think you're talking endorsements. I can name endorsements all day long from the former mayor of Newark, Sharpe James, or the former mayor of Atlanta, Bill Campbell, is helping to run our campaign.

That doesn't mean you are picking up in those constituencies. The same day, this morning's "New York Times" said that he had a rally in South Carolina and hardly any blacks showed up. So there's a difference between having endorsements and whether that is in fact trickling down to the community. Now, if you have a rally...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: But isn't that part of your strategy? Iowa is a nearly all-white state, where the first caucus is held. New Hampshire, where the first primary is held, is nearly all white. After that, you start to move to states that look more like America. Is that your strategy, to take him more on in the South and South Carolina

(CROSSTALK)

SHARPTON: Well, my strategy is to run. I'm not taking anybody on.

And I think we are going to take everyone on as we move forward. But I think that, if you have candidates that can't draw in a diverse community -- if you go to South Carolina, 40 percent black turnout, and, according to "The Times" this morning, you can't draw blacks to a rally, that says something about an ability to mobilize that we're going to need in November. We ought to deal with that now, rather than later.

And I don't think the way you deal with that is endorsements. You deal with real mobilization based on sound issues. People need to know what your running means to them, not asking people to support me because somebody else told you who they may or may not be influenced by those people.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Reverend Sharpton, I noticed that the fire wall for the other candidates to stop the Howard Dean juggernaut, to mix metaphors, is South Carolina. And by some polls, by the Feldman poll which came out late last month, you are actually beating Howard Dean. Why do you have a greater appeal in South Carolina than Howard Dean?

SHARPTON: Why do I have a greater appeal in some places other than the other candidates? I'm not trying to stop Dean. I'm trying to get Al into the White House.

So everybody else is stopping Dean. I'm trying to go, Al, go. I'm not anti-anybody. Why? Why do I have an appeal to South Carolina? Because I've been against trade agreements that cost textile workers jobs in South Carolina. Most of the other candidates, including Dean, have supported NAFTA. I've raised issues of the Confederate flag, something that divided that state. Many people would not deal with that.

I've advocated a job creation program. I used to live in South Carolina, in North Augusta, South Carolina, in fact, with James Brown. I'm familiar with the life there. I'm familiar with the culture there. I'm familiar with the dream. I'm familiar with how a school was recently raided by police and they held young people at gunpoint, looking for drugs that was not there. So a lot of candidates are not speaking real issues.

We are too busy infighting, than talking to the people. And I think that's why the poll results came as they did.

CARLSON: OK.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Jesse Jackson, when he ran in 1988, carried 14 primaries and caucuses.

SHARPTON: That was his second run.

BEGALA: Yes, sir. How many are you going to carry in your first?

SHARPTON: I don't want to predict how many. All I'm going to say is, I'll be in Boston. I hope I'll be there as the winner.

And I think Reverend Jackson did great in both races. And many people endorsed against him that wished they hadn't.

CARLSON: OK, we're going to -- with that, we're going to take a quick break.

When we come back, we'll have much more with the Reverend Al Sharpton, tough questions this time; and then a tour of the CNN Election Express directly behind us. It will be around the nation. We'll show you what's inside.

We'll be right back.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. We are here in New York City, the very first stop on the CNN Election Express tour of the United States of America.

And our first guest is Democratic presidential candidate and "Saturday Night Live" scene-stealer, the Reverend Al Sharpton.

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: Reverend Sharpton, you've been very critical of our Democratic Party chairman, Terry McAuliffe. If you are the nominee or if you win a considerable number of delegates, are you going to make a move to try to fire the party chairman?

SHARPTON: I think that we need leadership in the party that will bring us into the 21st century. I've disagreed with Terry, but I've also agreed with him. I think, on some things, he's been effective.

I don't think the issue is a personality. I think it's a direction. Any time in the last five congressional elections, we lost the Congress and the Senate. I think that we need to have a leadership that's geared more grassroots, geared more toward organizing and mobilizing. And, certainly, I would hope to have a lot to say about that in Boston.

CARLSON: Reverend Sharpton, how is your money situation? There are reports that you are spending more than you're taking in. Is that true, A, and will you have enough to go through, B?

SHARPTON: I think that we will raise a lot of money. I think that money has been slow. It's been better as we've brought on a new class-A team. We've doubled in the last filing. And people watching can call -- can go on my Web site, www.Sharpton2004.org, Sharpton2004.org, and send me something now. You gave me an opening. You know, a minister knows know how to take a collection.

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: Well, I got to ask you about one of the news stories of the day. Senator John Kerry gave an interview in which he used a profanity to describe how Mr. Bush has handled the war in Iraq. He's got a lot of heat for that. In fact, Andy Card, White House chief of staff, said he should be ashamed of himself.

Well, I know, firsthand, George W. Bush has used that word. He's used it to me. you're a man of God, though. I am actually pro- cursing. I think it's good. I think we should teach kids to curse, so they don't use drugs. It doesn't rot your brain. It doesn't get you pregnant. It doesn't kill you, like tobacco. Would you lead a pro-cursing revolution in America?

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: Or, seriously, as a man of God yourself, do you have a problem with a candidate cursing?

SHARPTON: I don't advocate or promote cursing, but I don't have a problem with it.

I think that what George Bush did in terms of Iraq, which was what John Kerry was discussing, was a profane thing. And sometimes, it's hard for people not to put the word to the act. I think it's far more profane what was done. I preached the eulogy of a young man killed in Iraq. And for Card and others to respond to Kerry's statement, rather than what he was talking, I think is the ultimate cop-out.

CARLSON: Reverend Sharpton, I'm not suggesting that you're not going to win the nomination. I've been boosting your candidacy all along, as you know. But let's just say you don't. Would you seriously entertain offers from the entertainment industry to, say, get your own show?

SHARPTON: No, I will not do with CROSSFIRE, you, Tucker.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

SHARPTON: But I appreciate the offer.

Whatever happens in Boston -- and I hope to be the nominee -- I will be committed to trying to make sure George Bush is not reelected, first and foremost. And I will continue in my drives for human and civil rights. I'm not interested in an entertainment career. In fact, I left entertainment when I was close with James Brown to do what I do in civil rights. So I'm not looking to do that again, but I am flattered by the offer.

BEGALA: Well, Reverend, let me pick up on a comment you made a moment ago about how you preached a eulogy for a young man who was killed in action serving our country in Iraq. There's a new story on "Newsweek" on the Web by Martha Brant where she says she went and talked to families of soldiers who have been killed.

The president hasn't gone to any of their funerals, but he has sent letters. She finds out that the letters are identical. They are form letters. Is that the way a president ought to treat families?

SHARPTON: I think -- I think that's insensitive.

When I preached a funeral of Darius Jennings in Orangeburg, South Carolina, I even went back without any press Thanksgiving Day and visited that family, because a mother said she thought at least someone from the White House would have come to the funeral. Someone would have acknowledged it. I think that we've got to deal -- these are real human beings with families. This young man had been married. He left a mother and father.

And I've encouraged Mrs. Johnson (ph) and others like her to tell the story of their children around this country, because we act like they're just moves on a chess board, rather than real human beings.

CARLSON: I'm sorry, Reverend Sharpton. We have emerging or breaking news here. CNN has just confirmed that former Vice President Al Gore will endorse former Vermont Governor Howard Dean tonight.

How do you respond to that?

SHARPTON: That's fine. I think that Mr. Gore...

CARLSON: Why would he do that?

SHARPTON: Well, why? I think Mr. Gore has the right to make whatever endorsements he wants. I think, again, endorsements does not necessarily mean that that's going to affect voters in the way that people think. I think that Americans, particularly in this media age, with 100 stations, Americans can make their decisions a lot more easily than they used to. So endorsement do not have the weight they once had.

BEGALA: Well, let me ask you, though, as somebody who supported Al Gore when he ran and supported him through that recount, have you gotten a call from him? Is this the first you've heard of this?

SHARPTON: This is the first I've heard of it.

But, again, I'm not worried about endorsements. Gore can support who he wants. That's great. I think that, at end of the day, Gore will say he will support the nominee, if his choice doesn't work. And I think that's all that's important.

CARLSON: But, Reverend Sharpton, you endorsed Al Gore, as I remember, in the closing days of the 2000 campaign. Obviously, you think endorsements mean something.

Are you saying that -- many Democrats believe Al Gore was actually elected president. You think this won't help Dean at all?

SHARPTON: I'm not -- it may help him in certain areas. It may not. I don't know.

Again, I think that we have to weigh every endorsement for what it is and what it is not. In terms of the strategy of the Sharpton- for-president campaign, an endorsement by Al Gore or anyone else will not affect our strategy one way or another. I don't want to shock you, but I was not depending on Al Gore's endorsement to do what I'm going to do in 2004.

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: Reverend Al Sharpton, thank you for joining us and...

SHARPTON: Thank you.

BEGALA: ... taking the high road in the face of this stunning news about Al Gore endorsing Howard Dean.

SHARPTON: I think there's only one road to take to the White House. That's the high road.

BEGALA: Reverend Sharpton, you're always welcome on CROSSFIRE.

SHARPTON: Thank you.

BEGALA: Thank you, sir.

SHARPTON: All right.

BEGALA: Appreciate that.

SHARPTON: All right.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Coming up, we're going to hear from some of the men and women on the street here in the Big Apple, as the CNN Election Express rolls on.

Stay with us.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE, where the CNN Election Express has rolled into New York City. The Big Apple is buzzing with CNN's exclusive report that Howard Dean will be endorsed tonight by former Vice President Al Gore.

CARLSON: We talk a lot about voters on our show. We have the opportunity to actually talk to some.

This is Salah (ph). He is a Gore voter.

Does Al Gore's endorsement of Howard Dean make it more likely you will vote for Dean?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I will still vote for Dean, yes.

CARLSON: Fantastic.

BEGALA: Sir, how about you? Tell me your name and where you're from. And what do you think about Al Gore endorsing Howard Dean for president tonight?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm Ed O'Connor (ph). And I think it is going to give him a lot of votes, because Al Gore did so well in the election for Bush last year -- last run. And I think it is going to give him a lot of votes.

BEGALA: Excellent. Thanks, Ed.

CARLSON: Now, you saw Al Sharpton, the Reverend Al Sharpton, here today. You may have seen him on "Saturday Night Live." Is there a more entertaining Democrat in America, do you think, than Al Sharpton?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think so. And he dances really well.

CARLSON: He dances really well. Sharpton has won the sidewalk primary here in New York.

BEGALA: Hey, John (ph), how about you? You heard the news about Al Gore endorsing Howard Dean tonight. What's your reaction?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just heard it. It's unbelievable. I'm excited. I think Howard Dean is going to do a fantastic job as the Democratic nominee.

BEGALA: So you're a Dean voter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm a Dean voter from this point forward, yes, sir.

BEGALA: Because of Al Gore?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because of Al Gore, I think he is going to ride this momentum into the sunset.

BEGALA: That's Howard Dean's first vote from the Gore endorsement, Tucker.

CARLSON: OK. We have someone who is not from our country, who can't vote, from Uruguay.

Ma'am, does the system make any sense to you and what did you think of the Reverend Al Sharpton?

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

CARLSON: Yes. OK. I'll take that on both counts. Thank you.

BEGALA: We're going up to New Hampshire. What do you think of the Gore endorsement of Dean?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm shy. I got cold feet.

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: This is live television. You can't be shy.

CARLSON: And with that, we are out of time. But we'll be back in just a moment to take an inside tour of the CNN Election Express, parked just behind us. It's a great bus. You'll want to see it.

We'll be right back.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. And welcome to the CNN Election Express, our mobile bureau to cover politics 2004.

CARLSON: The command center. This is a CNN studio, a bureau, a workspace. But it's on wheels.

BEGALA: It's fabulous. We have right here, actually, Macintosh G5, the most powerful computer made. We can make, edit stories right here.

CARLSON: You could make an entire documentary on that. And we'll take tape shot from outside from our mobile camera crews, bring it inside, edit it right there, and, with the help of this stack of sophisticated electronic equipment, send it to the satellite receiver dish on the top of this buzz, send it to CNN bureaus around the world and make television.

BEGALA: Where they will then beam it right to your home.

Here for us, for the occupant, this is the heart and the soul of the place, though, Tucker.

CARLSON: That's right.

BEGALA: The galley.

CARLSON: This is the candy center. We have Reeses Peanut Butter Cups, Hershey's Kiss with almonds, and, of course, coffee, plenty of it.

BEGALA: Coffee. And then, after the show, maybe a few cold beers.

CARLSON: Adult beverages. That's right.

BEGALA: There we go.

We can fax. We can microwave, really all the comforts of a real bureau right here on the road.

Now, right here is where your humble correspondent will be preparing for CROSSFIRE every day, doing research live. We have constant connectivity with the Internet right here on the bus.

CARLSON: We also have old media of the most reliable kind, "The New York Times," brought to us fresh every morning.

(LAUGHTER)

CARLSON: And back here, this would say the nerve center. This is our mobile studio, these two benches, complete with lights, monitors, laboratory, and our interview station. It is right there that presidential candidates of kinds, major and minor, Dennis Kucinich and Senator John Kerry, probably Howard Dean, will be interviewed by us.

BEGALA: In fact, tomorrow, right here on this bench, General Wesley Clark, four-star general. The man has been around the world, fought in wars, but he's never been through the CNN Election Express.

CARLSON: He's never been on the CNN Election Express.

The day after that, we will have Senator John Edwards of North Carolina. We'll ask him about his campaign, struggling or not. He'll sit through an interesting, but difficult interview with us.

BEGALA: Well, what's great is that we'll be able to do it from where the candidates are, where the voters are. They're not spending any time in Washington anymore, nor should they. They're in Iowa. They're in New Hampshire. And then, so will we be.

CARLSON: We never apologize for doing our show out of Washington most the time. But it is almost impossible to cover the primaries unless you're on the road with the candidates. And, from here on out, we will be.

BEGALA: So we'll load them up here, soak them up on coffee. And, look, if they want a beer, they can have one. But I think the idea will be, get them in their natural element. They'll be a little more relaxed. It's, I think, a lot better than doing it by satellite, where things can break down.

CARLSON: That's right.

BEGALA: We'll have them right here to watch them squirm.

CARLSON: We may even have actual voters on the bus. We'll keep you posted.

BEGALA: That would be great.

From the left, I'm Paul Begala. That's it for CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: And from the right, from the CNN Election Express, I am Tucker Carlson.

Join us again tomorrow.

Next, "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS." It starts right now.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com


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