Second-Tier Candidates Continue to Fight

Former Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley Braun (search), Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich (search) and the Rev. Al Sharpton (search), all seeking the Democratic nomination for president, say just because they're down, don't count them out.

"We are going to the conventions, and I believe we will have a respectable amount of delegates," said Braun campaign manager Patricia Ireland. "This is a candidate who has been told in every race she's won she couldn't possibly do it."

Braun and Kucinich have taken particular exception at the decision by ABC News to pull out of its regular coverage of the second-tier candidates and deploy its resources in Iowa and New Hampshire, which next month hold the first-in-the-nation caucuses and primary respectively.

"I don't think ABC should be the first primary," Kucinich said while campaigning Thursday at New England College. "The first primary should not be on a television network."

Braun, following a forum at Concord High School in New Hampshire, said she was sorry to hear ABC News' producer was leaving.

"If they don't want to help me get my message out, then I'll have to find alternative ways to do it," she said. "I think it is a terrible commentary, however, on the state of the media, frankly, if their idea of a democracy is only relating to those candidates who have the most money."

Kucinich suggested ABC's decision to leave his campaign may have followed a testy exchange between the Ohio congressman and moderator Ted Koppel, host of ABC's "Nightline" during last Tuesday's debate in New Hampshire.

During the debate, Kucinich expressed his annoyance with Koppel, who asked whether he, Braun or Sharpton are "in this as sort of a vanity candidacy."

Kucinich replied that he "may be inconvenient for some of those in the media but, you know, I'm sorry about that."

ABC News officials say the decision to drop the coverage has nothing to do with the debate, but with its division of resources. The three are not frequently in the news coverage aired on the network, though they do show up in Internet coverage.

NBC News continues to have young correspondents assigned to follow each of the nine candidates, and CBS monitors each campaign, but does not have a full-time staffer with each.

While the candidates may be disappointed with their coverage, the chicken and egg debate between media attention and candidate popularity goes on. According to a recent Fox News-Opinion Dynamics poll, none of the three are getting more than 3 percent support nationally.

That hasn't stopped -- or even slowed -- the candidates yet.

"We may not be appearing on some of the radar screens now, but I will tell you, in Iowa and New Hampshire and other places, you'll be reporting after the primaries that ours was the surprise," Kucinich said.

Kucinich said if people read his resume, they will realize he is a viable candidate.

"I'm the co-chair of the progressive caucus in Congress. I'm the ranking Democrat on the sub-committee with oversight of national security. I'm someone who has worked with leaders around the world on important issues related to security. I think that background qualifies me as a Democrat to face-off against President Bush," he told Fox News.

Braun's curriculum vitae should impress as well, said Ireland. The former ambassador to New Zealand has been at the forefront of economic and gender issues.

"Irrespective of the convention there's no doubt Braun is a winner. This is a campaign that pushed issues of equal pay and large economic issues," she said, adding the polling percentage difference between the leader of the pack and the trailer is not that drastic.

But money could soon present a problem for the candidates. All are operating on the bare minimum, with Braun raising just several hundred thousand dollars, and Sharpton at just $150,000, according to third quarter fund-raising figures. That compares to the more than $25 million raised so far by front-runner Howard Dean or the $112 million raised so far by President Bush.

The lack of dollars hasn't deterred Braun.

"Ambassador Braun is not dropping out, no way, no how," said Ireland. "If it were just about money, all the Democrats can fold up their tents and go home. President Bush has outraised the total amount all the Democrats have raised."

"I'm in this for the long haul. I've organized a grassroots campaign," said Kucinich.

It is still too early to count anyone out, say some pundits who point to 1984 as an example. Two months before that year's New Hampshire primary, former Vice President Walter Mondale was leading Colorado Sen. Gary Hart by almost 40 percent. Hart beat Mondale by 10 percentage points in that primary, though Mondale did go on to win the Democratic nomination.

And even if the candidates have no chance of winning, one political observer said it isn't merely a "vanity campaign" for Sharpton.

"I think Al Sharpton will stay in the race as long as he can. I think he wants to be the spokesman for black America, the position Jesse Jackson seemed to hold after his presidential candidacy in 1984 and 1988," said Michael Barone, senior writer for U.S. News & World Report and a Fox News contributor.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.