When I travel around the country, people consistently ask me why they aren't hearing more about Rev. Al Sharpton's and Carol Mosley Braun's bid for the presidency. Often they lean forward and whisper, "Is it racism?"
"No, they're not running actual campaigns!" I respond.
Sharpton is the quintessential New York style populist. He's made a living standing outside the political mainstream and pumping his fists in righteous indignation. Now that he's actually trying to join the fold, he's finding out how complex the system is, and how ill-equipped he is to thrive in it.
For starters, Sharpton and Braun have no infrastructure set up in the primary states to coordinate volunteers or to raise the money they need to qualify for matching federal funds. In fact, a recent New York Post article detailed how poorly Sharpton did raising funds in Manhattan's swanky upper east side (The G-spot of political donations). According to the article, John Kerry corralled $322,125 from the 10021 area code. Senator Joseph Lieberman pulled in $200,430. Ex Governor Howard Dean got $182,809. By contrast, Al Sharpton netted a mere $500.
Surely it doesn't help that Sharpton is yet to announce any serious proposals for homeland security, the economy, healthcare, etc. Gephardt, Kerry, Howard Dean, Gen. Wesley Clark's have all been hard at work addressing the issues that Americans care about most. You don't see that coming from the Sharpton campaign. He's a hot house flower. He exists only during the debates. Outside of that environment, he withers.
Somehow, this point seems lost on Sharpton, who continues to fancy himself as a second coming of Jesse Jackson. But in order for him to be credible like Jackson in 84 and 88, he needs to establish a strong presence on the ground. He needs to employ people who know how to get him on the ballot, people who know how to raise money so he can qualify for matching funds. Until then, he will remain an insular northeastern, New York style politician with a controversial history and a track record of voting Republican (He's endorsed Republicans for most of his career).
Braun offers the historical legacy of having become the first female American Black Senator. That alone is quite a feat. Just one thing: In her six years in the senate Braun essentially failed to produce any worthwhile legislation, and lost her last election bid after allegations surfaced that she misappropriated campaign donations to fund personal trips to Nigeria. So far, Braun 's only significant policy announcement has been a call for universal healthcare.