Sharpton Runs in Jackson's Image

When Al Sharpton (search) launched his presidential candidacy last year he cast himself as the inheritor of his one-time mentor Jesse Jackson (search), another minister and civil rights leader who ran for the White House as a Democrat.

Yet, political analysts say, other than their oratorical flair on the stump, the similarities between Sharpton's current, struggling campaign and Jackson's landmark bids in 1984 and 1988 are few.

"It's a totally different season, a totally different campaign," said veteran political strategist Donna Brazile (search), a Democratic consultant who ran Al Gore's 2000 campaign and worked on Jackson's 1984 team.

In fact, because of his groundswell of grassroots support, Howard Dean's campaign — which ended Wednesday — was more akin to that of Jackson's than Sharpton's, said Kevin Gray, who resigned last year as Sharpton's South Carolina coordinator and worked on Jackson's two campaigns.

"Like Dean, he spoke the language of an outsider," Gray said.

As of Wednesday, Sharpton had just 16 of the 2,161 delegates needed to secure the nomination. He received 2 percent of the vote in Wisconsin on Tuesday, with 99 percent of the precincts reporting.

Jackson said Tuesday it is unfair to compare his historic bid 20 years ago to the African American candidates in this year's race.

"I thought that clearly in the debates Al Sharpton and Carol Moseley Braun did very well," Jackson told reporters before speaking at Harvard University. "To run an effective campaign you need a message, money, infrastructure, and many, many volunteers."

"You cannot get from here to California with just a message. You need a plane," Jackson added, underscoring the importance of funding.

Sharpton jumped into the presidential fray last year, saying that he wanted to shake up "an exclusive club for white males, of a certain income, of a certain age."

But political observers say that, while the Brooklyn-born civil rights leader has brought some flare to the staid field of professional politicians, Sharpton's goal is to elevate his position as a powerbroker within the Democratic Party by galvanizing the black vote.

"Jackson, when he ran, downplayed the racial aspect," said author and political commentator Earl Ofari Hutchinson. "Sharpton has made it pretty clear that he is running a race-based campaign — in other words his strength is black voters."

Sharpton's strategy is to mobilize the black vote into a bloc that delivers enough delegates to earn him a prime-time speech at the Democratic National Convention, said Willie Legette, associate professor of political science at South Carolina State University.

That's something Jackson did in 1988, when he gave one of the most memorable speeches of the convention.

"He wants black people to vote for him so he can go and negotiate and bargain for black people at the Democratic convention," Legette said. "Those days are over."

Sharpton has campaigned almost exclusively in black churches but the strategy has not been too successful.

Sharpton finished in the low teens or single digits in South Carolina, Virginia and Michigan, three states with sizable black communities that Jackson carried in 1988. Sharpton finished second in the District of Columbia caucus behind front-runner John Kerry.

For his part, Sharpton's campaign says it's unfair to compare his third-place finish in South Carolina to Jackson's 1988 win.

Jackson is a native South Carolinian, the campaign said, while Sharpton is from New York, and therefore his strength lies in urban centers rather than the more rural South.

Rep. Jose Serrano of the Bronx, who was a delegate for Jackson and has now endorsed Sharpton, said Sharpton faces more challenges now than Jackson did in 1988.

"In many ways," he said, "there is more resistance to a (minority) candidacy now than when (Jackson) ran."

Some of those changes, however, have come in the black community itself, analysts said. It is much wealthier and better educated than when Jackson ran, and therefore is less likely to vote solely based on race, analysts said.

And because of that, Sharpton cannot rely solely on black voters, said David Bositis, a senior political analyst for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a nonpartisan think tank that specializes in African American issues.

"Blacks are like any other Democrat," said Bositis. "They want someone who can beat George Bush. Sharpton can't do that."

Brazile, who is black, agreed, saying "the black electorate today is much more mature and informed" than in the past and isn't looking for someone "to grandstand with a message."

Another difference between the two is the Sharpton's dearth of support among leading black elected officials. For example, Jackson's son, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. of Illinois, had endorsed Dean.

Legette said "the idea (that) the black community needs a protest leader to speak on their behalf is past," because the Democratic party is now full of "black political insiders."

The elder Jackson, unlike his one-time protege, also was able to parlay his popularity as a civil rights leader into a broader coalition that attracted labor unions, feminists and environmentalists. That coalition made him an established figure within the party.

"You can't run a national campaign unless you have a strong organizational base, which Sharpton doesn't have," Hutchinson said. "That opens you up to a conduit of a broad range of funding sources."

Another problem for Sharpton is image, observers said.

Unlike Jackson, Sharpton entered the campaign with a lot of baggage, especially his role in the notorious Tawana Brawley case. A state grand jury eventually ruled that the teenager's claim of being raped by a group of white men was flase.

"People didn't see Jesse Jackson as racial rabble rouser," Hutchinson said. "Many people still see Sharpton as that."