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In the Crossfire

The Rev. Al Sharpton for president?

The Rev. Al Sharpton: 'First of all, I'm not running an African-American campaign. We're running a broad-based campaign that includes African-Americans and Latinos and gays and lesbians and laborers and others.'

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The race for the Democratic presidential nomination is heating up, and the Rev. Al Sharpton is one of six candidates running hard for the top prize. Does he have any chance of winning, or is he just hoping to influence the debate?

Sharpton joined "Crossfire" hosts Robert Novak and Paul Begala to make his case.

NOVAK: Reverend Sharpton, now, I don't think it's any surprise to you to know that the people who run your party, the Democratic Party, are scared to death of you running and messing up their game.

Do you think they have instigated another African-American, former Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun of Illinois to run against you as part of a conspiracy?

SHARPTON: Well, I mean, first of all, we have filed the exploratory papers, we'll officially start in the spring. I think that the clear objective of my race is to give voice to a lot of issues and people that I think are the majority of Americans.

I think that there may be all kinds of schemes. They are totally immaterial to me.

First of all, I'm not running an African-American campaign. We're running a broad-based campaign that includes African-Americans and Latinos and gays and lesbians and laborers and others.

So if they have a conspiracy, as you call it, on the African- American side, it won't help them, because our campaign will be much broader than that. And I think that if that's the case, they're playing a divisive race card, not me.

I think what we really need to talk about is the issues as to why ... most Americans are not voting and why I feel it is necessary to address the issues they're concerned about to bring them [into] the process. Because all of these behind-the-scenes maneuvers won't mean anything when we get out into the primaries and the voters go in the booths.

NOVAK: Well, let me ask you about one more conspiracy question, about an in-front-of-the-scene event, and that was your headquarters in Harlem -- as you're announcing your exploratory committee -- going up in smoke. And they say it was an accident.

But you had a fire like that once when you had another political campaign. What's going on? Do you know?

SHARPTON: I have no idea. I was in Washington [when] I got the call. I came back. Police said the preliminary findings were that it was an accident. They have not given a final report. Others are looking into it.

I'm trying to make sure National Action Network survives. We'll be having our weekly rally and broadcast on two stations [Saturday] up the block at another church.

Again, I will let the investigators and those that represent the legal department at National Action Network handle the investigation.

The timing of it caused a lot of people a lot of concern. My concern is to keep the movement going and the message that I think is important.

You know, Dennis Rivera, the labor leader, came to the headquarters yesterday and started a fund-raising drive to help us. And he said the important thing is that our voice and our message are needed nationally now, and he wanted to help. That means more to me than anything, and that's what I'm trying to preserve, and that's what I'm trying to do.

BEGALA: Well, Reverend Sharpton, let me go over some of the record that you bring to this race.

In 1995, you called a New York City clothing storeowner a white interloper. The store was later burned; eight people died. In 199 ...

SHARPTON: Well, let's go one by one, Paul. Let's go one by one, Paul. No, we're not going to go quickly. Let's go one by one.

In 1995, there was a picketing of a local store -- led by many people locally -- trying to evict someone, which I called an interloper. Four months later, a guy that was obviously not well, burned down the store and killed himself in the store. To try to make that connection is to try to say because I went to Israel last October and supported the secured borders of Israel, that I instigated some attack against Palestinians.

So don't try to loop that together. ... To loop them together, I think, is reckless and irresponsible on your part. It certainly had nothing to do with me.

BEGALA: How about the question of New York state and local taxes in 1995? "The New York Times" said you failed to pay $20,000 of New York state and local taxes and other medical bills and other things.

SHARPTON: Well, first of all, that was an allegation that we said was not true. When we formally announce, you ought to ask all candidates to release all of their tax information, and we'll all do what everybody does ...

BEGALA: Absolutely, absolutely.

SHARPTON: I think that it is ludicrous for you to ask the "brokest" guy in the race about his money. I'm running against millionaires. You have a lot more to read about theirs. ...

NOVAK: Reverend Sharpton, Howard Wolfson, who I think you know was an aide to Hillary Clinton, he's now the executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. And he said this about your campaign: "These guys have no idea what they're in for."

What do you think Howard means by that?

SHARPTON: I don't know. I mean, I think that one of the things that people try to do is try to castigate people that have the nerve to stand up and speak for people and issues that haven't been spoken for.

For example, we were the ones that fought racial profiling cases all over this country that ultimately led to being an accepted term ... for the case of Abner Louima [the Haitian immigrant abused by New York police officers in 1997]. And successfully fought [for] them.

We also fought about racism in advertising and were able to get millions of dollars for minority advertisers.

We fought for Haitian democracy and for South Africa. Many issues.

But many of our so-called friends want to limit us to two or three things that they consider things that they can try to discredit you, without raising the broader issues and raising the achievements that people rallied around you for.

I think that they are, in many ways, displaced when people are not intimidated by their attacks and when they have to come to the reality that [they don't really speak for the people who] they keep speaking for. And when people emerge on their own and show that they have, in fact, been false in their claim, they get uncomfortable about that. ...

NOVAK: Reverend Sharpton, you said, "The whole new Democratic Party is the old Republican Party ... We have a whole bunch of elephants running around in donkey's clothes."

You like to name names, and I like to name names. Give me some of the candidates who have announced their intention to run for president, whether they are elephants or not? [Connecticut Sen.] Joe Lieberman, [Massachusetts Sen.] John Kerry, [are] any of them elephants?

SHARPTON: Well, no, first of all, I talked about the party. I didn't say the candidates.

I do believe the party has moved far to the right. I do believe that the party has a bunch of elephants running around in donkey clothes.

When you can't tell the difference in the question of war, in the question of health care, in the question of big business deregulation, in the question of tax certificates, between the Republicans and the Democrats, someone needs to step forward and raise that.

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