Sharpton on sidelines for '08 presidential race - for now


Published: Friday, January 26, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 26, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

WASHINGTON — Democrat Al Sharpton said Thursday he's waiting to see how the 2008 presidential field shapes up before deciding whether to declare himself a candidate.

The civil rights activist spent the day on Capitol Hill, meeting with the four Democratic senators who are pursuing the presidency — Chris Dodd of Connecticut, Joe Biden of Delaware, Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois. Each met privately with Sharpton in their office.

"I'm not making any endorsements today," Sharpton, who ran in 2004, told reporters at the end of his meeting with Obama.

Obama said the two talked about their shared agenda of fighting for the dispossessed. "I assured him that I not only want to hear his views and thoughts and policy recommendations, but publicly any of us who step into this fight for the nomination have to be held accountable and speak to these issues," he said.

Sharpton said they talked about economics, health care and education issues. "We are going to keep talking and he knows I'm talking to everybody," he said.

The normally loquacious Sharpton was unusually curt and cut off further questioning by saying he was behind schedule. But he told reporters who followed him that he would decide about his own candidacy "once I see what these guys do or don't do."

Former Rep. Harold Ford Jr., has some advice for his friend Sen. Barack Obama: Don't be afraid to take your presidential campaign anywhere in this country, no matter what the racial politics.

Ford lost a close bid last fall to become the first black senator from a Southern state since Reconstruction. Some blamed the loss in Tennessee on racial politics, but Ford said Thursday other factors, including a rival who spent his own money, contributed to his defeat.

He said Obama, son of a white mother and an African father, can't control how his race will affect his candidacy.

"As long as he works hard, is honest ... and is not afraid to take his message anywhere in the country, he'll do fine," Ford said. "He can't try to predict what other people may think or may do. All he can do is run the campaign that he's capable of running.

"Do I think the fact that he's black will be a factor in his campaign? Probably," Ford said. "It would be a factor if two white guys were running. People talk about race regardless, so race is an issue that we deal with in America. I don't think that will be a central part of his campaign at all."

Ford spoke to reporters over lunch on his first day as chairman of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council. Ford is replacing former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, who stepped down to run for president.

Ford said he plans to remain neutral in the 2008 race because of his new position, but he is particularly close to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Obama.

Hollywood moguls Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen are throwing a fundraiser for Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign next month.

Some 700 invitations to the $2,300-per-head event at the Beverly Hilton Hotel went out this week, Andy Spahn, political adviser to Katzenberg and Spielberg, said Thursday. Katzenberg, Spielberg and Geffen are the founders of the DreamWorks movie studio.

Katzenberg has endorsed Obama, but Spielberg, a longtime supporter of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, hasn't made up his mind. Geffen also has not publicly endorsed a candidate.

"There are many people in this community who will support multiple candidates, but this certainly is evidence off the serious credibility and strength of Obama's candidacy," said Spahn, rejecting the suggestion the fundraiser was a slight to Clinton.

The Feb. 20 event will be followed by a private dinner at Geffen's house for donors who have committed to raising $46,000.

As president, Bill Clinton had a famously affectionate relationship with Hollywood, and the goodwill — and deep pockets — transferred to Sen. Clinton. Celebrities such as Barbra Streisand, Jennifer Lopez and Chris Rock donated to her Senate races in 2000 and 2006.

Clinton spokesman Phil Singer said Spielberg and other major Los Angeles donors, including producer Steve Bing, media mogul Haim Saban, supermarket magnate Ron Burkle and investment banker Sim Farar, will be co-hosting a fundraiser for the New York senator in the spring.

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