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Democrats Attack Bush in Debate

Aired January 30, 2004 - 08:04   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: About three hours from now, most of the Democratic presidential hopefuls will be answering questions from working families in Columbia, South Carolina. During a debate last night, Howard Dean said that front runner John Kerry had sponsored 11 health care bills during his Senate tenure and that none of them had passed. Kerry said he had helped pass many health measures, citing family medical leave and mental health legislation.
Most of the rest of the debate was spent attacking President Bush.


DR. HOWARD DEAN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What we do know is this, the president was not candid with the American people when we went to war.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This president broke every one of those promises to the American people. He rushed to war. He did not build a legitimate coalition. He did not exhaust the remedies of the inspections. He did not go to war as a last resort.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This administration did not have its priorities right and the president, not the intelligence community and not the previous administration, President George W. Bush must be held accountable for that.

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There's a lot the president is not doing about jobs lost, about a health care crisis in this country. The president of the United States has to actually be able to walk and chew chewing gum at the same time.

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D-CT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The biggest thing we could do to create more jobs in America is to vote George W. Bush out of office this November.


O'BRIEN: Polls suggest that the Reverend Al Sharpton could make a strong showing Tuesday in South Carolina's primary. But his impact on the Democratic campaign is not measured in numbers. Sharpton has built a reputation for being fast on his feet at the debates and last night was no exception, as he had some harsh words for President Bush.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) AL SHARPTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And as far as Mr. Bush saying that he doesn't need a permission slip from the U.N., he doesn't think he needs votes from the American people to be president.


O'BRIEN: But earlier this morning, I spoke with the Reverend Al Sharpton and I asked him what he thought of his performance in last night's debate.


SHARPTON: I think we were able to get a lot of our points across about the vote. And many of us are still concerned about the continued erosion of people's right to vote in this country. If you look at it from the recall in Florida to redistricting in Texas to the recall in California, we're concerned about that. I was also able to raise the points about job loss and how we need the job creation and public works programs and how we need to deal with labor and how we need to preserve affirmative action.

So I was satisfied that we were able to get before the voters around the seven states we're running in next Tuesday, as well as other states, my points of view and why I think the Democratic Party must stand up and not equivocate on critical issues.

O'BRIEN: Why do you think your points of view, though, aren't really gaining traction with the voters so far that we've seen in the caucuses and, of course, the primary? In New Hampshire, you got 0.1 percent of the vote; in Iowa, zero percent. How do you think that...

SHARPTON: Because we didn't actively campaign in either. I think that if you want to gauge our support, the only place we campaigned was in D.C., the D.C. statehood primary. I got over a third of the vote. Wesley Clark got zero percent in Iowa because he didn't campaign.

So no one can gauge our support until next Tuesday because that's the only places that we've competed on January 13th in Washington, D.C., where we got over a third of the vote. You certainly can't expect votes where you didn't campaign, didn't have an operation. So that's not a fair prism.

O'BRIEN: So how do you think you're going to do in South Carolina, then?

SHARPTON: I think we'll do well in South Carolina. I think we'll win delegates in South Carolina, Missouri and probably Delaware. And I think that that is going to be the beginning of a turnaround in this campaign to show that people that have been marginalized and ignored are going to end up victorious in this campaign and will not be ignored.

O'BRIEN: You --

SHARPTON: I've said to voters around the country that with me you can't lose. We can't get enough to win, but the least we can get is a enough delegates to where we can make our issues become centerpiece issues to be addressed in these 2004 elections.

O'BRIEN: You say you expect a turning point. Some pollsters -- and I know you don't always agree with the pollsters -- are predicting that you're going to get somewhere between 14 percent, or maybe as low as four percent, in South Carolina, which, of course, is not good enough to win.

If you don't have a good showing in South Carolina but you're able to get your issues out on the front burner, as you say, will you drop out?

SHARPTON: No. First of all, I don't agree with polls. These pollsters in D.C. in January said I would get about 10 percent. I got 34 percent.

But second of all, I think that when you look at the fact that you're talking about a marathon, not a sprint, we're going all the way to Boston. Why? Because we must have delegates that stand for social justice, that stand for the preservation of our voting rights. And I'm not in this for a one shot situation or if this doesn't work I'm out, if this works, I'm in. Some of the -- of my opponents that are saying I must win this primary, they're in political sweepstakes. I'm in a political movement. We must address critical issues in 2004 and I'm in it until the long haul. And I believe we'll do a lot better than many people think we will.

O'BRIEN: South Carolina Congressman Jim Clayburn, as you well know, a prominent African-American leader, supported John Kerry yesterday, threw his support that way.

How big of a problem, how big of a disappointment is this for your campaign?

SHARPTON: Not at all. I never expected his support. He supported Mr. Gephardt before he supported Kerry and Mr. Gephardt dropped out of the race. I respect Congressman Clayburn, but I never thought he would support us. You know, 20 years ago when the Reverend Jesse Jackson ran, most of the Congressional Black Caucus didn't support him. Most black mayors didn't support him. He ended up getting the overwhelmingly majority of the black vote anyway.

I don't think endorsements have anything to do with how people are going to vote. People vote their interests. People don't vote the endorsers. I have a bunch of endorsements, but that is not what I'm depending on to deliver my vote.


O'BRIEN: Presidential candidate the Reverend Al Sharpton.


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