Sharpton, Steele on McCain Courting the Black Vote

This is a rush transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," July 16, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Let me begin, if I may, with a few words about my opponent. Don't tell him I said this, but he's an impressive fellow in many ways.

Of course, I would prefer his success not to continue quite as long as he hopes. I'm a candidate for president who seeks your vote and hopes to earn it. But whether or not I win your support, I need your goodwill and your counsel.


ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: That was Senator John McCain earlier today at the NAACP annual convention, trying to mend his relationship with the civil rights group after skipping last year's convention.

Video: Watch Part 1 of the debate | Part 2

McCain openly expressed his respect for Obama, but still made an appeal at the conference for the African-American vote. But was he able to bridge the divide to garner some support?

Joining us now, former Maryland lieutenant governor and GOPAC chair, Michael Steele, and the president of the National Action Network, Reverend Al Sharpton.

When he praises Obama, Reverend, to the NAACP, is that pandering?

REV. AL SHARPTON, NATIONAL ACTION NETWORK: I don't think it's necessarily pandering. I don't think he said it in a way that would give that feeling. I think that if we could have a campaign on the issues and disagree in a civil way, I think that's better for everyone.

COLMES: Hey, Michael Steele, why is McCain only polling at 1 to 2 percent depending upon the poll to African-Americans? Any chance he's ever going to raise that number up?

MICHAEL STEELE, GOPAC CHAIRMAN: Well, because he's running against a black man, I mean, Alan. This is not rocket scientist. He's running a black man who, come this November, could be elected the first African- American president of the United States.

So, absolutely, I would be shocked if he was polling higher than 5 or 6 or 7 percent...

COLMES: So another year.

STEELE: . in this race. So I think -- you know, let's not overstate the obvious here or try to make more of it than there is. I think the reality of it is African-American community has a great deal of pride in Barack's effort, and stand behind him.

I just thought, as one sitting in the audience today and listening to McCain's speech, and most especially listening to the voices around me while he spoke, that McCain made a touch with the African-American community, one that hasn't been, I think, felt or made in a long, long time, and I was very impressed by some folks I know to be, you know, pretty hard core partisans, were impressed and they were respectful because they felt respected.

COLMES: Let me point out that the mayor of Columbus, Michael Coleman, said today -- what he said what McCain said to the NAACP ignores the fact that he voted against funding for disadvantaged students at least 12 times. He voted four times against hiring high quality teachers. He's voted against increasing funds for dropout prevention, repeatedly against increasing funds for head start.

Yet he talked education today without acknowledging that's his record.

STEELE: No, I think John McCain has always been very clear about his record. When it comes to these types of bills, you can go by the surface of it and say he voted against head start, but you have to look at the cost, the expense and all of the other factors, and John McCain has been very clear in laying that out.

He's laid it out about his stance on the Bush tax cuts initially, and so forth, and I think at the end of the day when he took questions on that very subject after his speech, I think the audience was, one, impressed, and grateful that he addressed it head on.

HANNITY: Hey, Michael, good to see you. Reverend Al, good to see you.

STEELE: Hey, good to see you, Sean.

HANNITY: Well, Michael just used the phrase -- I wrote it down as he said it. "Because he's running against a black man."

Is this -- and we look at the number in the Democratic primary, 90 percent of African-Americans voted for Hillary Clinton -- and voted for Barack Obama, 70 percent -- 75 percent of white Americans were voting for Hillary.

Is it OK to vote for somebody because of their race?

SHARPTON: I think that it is not if that's the only reason. I think that if someone of your race or religion or gender is presenting the best options, the best positions, then you naturally can have pride that it's one of your own, but you're supporting them for their positions.

There's nothing wrong with saying that I think he's the best candidate, and I'm proud he's one of mine.


SHARPTON: But if it was that I'm only voting him for that reason, I think it would be wrong. I think a lot of Catholics may have been proud of John Kennedy, there's nothing wrong with that, and I think that -- but that is not the reason that I think a lot of people are voting. I think when you listen to what Alan just said, some of the things.

HANNITY: No, never.

SHARPTON: . that McCain has been.

HANNITY: Never do that.

SHARPTON: Well, you can sometimes.

COLMES: I listen to your own show.

SHARPTON: But I think that when you look at some of the things that McCain's record has represented, many of us have disagreement, including he didn't support the holiday for Martin Luther King.

HANNITY: But you didn't -- all right, but you know what?

STEELE: Yes, but he.

HANNITY: He would have been criticized if he didn't go to the NAACP. He went there. I thought it was very kind and gracious...

SHARPTON: That's good.

HANNITY: ...and reaching out.

SHARPTON: That's a good thing.

HANNITY: Michael Steele, does he have an opportunity here to win over this vote? And I want you to answer the question that I asked Reverend Al, which is, you know, do you think a lot of people are voting for Barack Obama because he's black?

STEELE: Well, let me deal with the first question first. And I think, yes, he has a chance to appeal to the African-American community unlike many Republicans have in a long, long time. Whether that translates into votes this November remains to be seen.

That leads into the second question which is there's a great deal of pride among African-Americans, but I take note of the fact that Barack himself is a little sticky on this issue because when I was running for the United States Senate he came to Maryland and made it very clear to the black community that race wasn't a factor, that you shouldn't vote for Michael Steele because he's black. You know you need to consider other things.



STEELE: ...that following Thursday he went to Tennessee.

HANNITY: All right.

STEELE: ...for Harold Ford and said race was a factor. So I don't know.

HANNITY: What I'm saying.

STEELE: this cuts.

HANNITY: What percentage of the African-American vote did you get when you were running in the last election?

STEELE: I got close to 30 percent, which was a historic high for Maryland, never before has a Republican gotten that high.

SHARPTON: Which proves your point as well.

HANNITY: All right. No, no, no.

SHARPTON: It goes by policy.

HANNITY: We got to take a break. We'll come back, and coming up have race relations in the U.S. improved with Barack Obama's candidacy? We got a new poll. It examines just that and the results are not what you'd expect.

More with Michael Steele and Reverend Al Sharpton.

By the way, Reverend Al is ranked in the poll. We'll tell you what number, coming up.




JULIAN BOND, NAACP CHAIRMAN: We know that Obama's electoral success, even if he should win the ultimate prize, won't signal an end to racial discrimination.


HANNITY: And that was NAACP chairman Julian Bond this past Sunday. Meanwhile, a New York Times/CBS News poll finds that race relations have not improved, despite the success of Barack Obama's candidacy.

Now, according to the poll, 55 percent of white voters believe that race relations are good, compared to just 29 percent of black voters.

Even more surprising, a higher percentage of white voters believe that America is ready for a black president, at 70 percent to 65.

We now continue with Michael Steele and the Reverend Al Sharpton.

Reverend Al, first of all, one little addendum here: 29 percent of black Americans polled name Barack Obama as the individual or leader in the U.S. who they would choose as a spokesman for race issues. Guess who came in second?



SHARPTON: Well, it shows -- I don't usually agree with polls, but I think that...

HANNITY: In this case you do?

SHARPTON: No, but I think that -- I think that shows that African- Americans realize that different people have played different roles. We can have a Barack Obama as president. We can have a Michael Steele in the Republican Party. We can have an Al Sharpton in the civil rights at the same time.

And I think that, as long as we are moving forward toward progress, that's fine.

HANNITY: Well, I want to go back to this poll. I'll ask you. Then I'll ask Michael Steele. If you look at the high percentage of white Americans who say yes, America has corrected wrongs and injustices and is ready for an African-American president.

If Barack Obama wins, would that prove a point that I have made often on this program: 90 percent of Americans are not racist. Ninety percent of Americans don't have antipathy. They judge people by the content of their character.

Would that -- would his victory or the fact that he did very well in the election -- would that prove my point? Would that be...

SHARPTON: I think you've got to quote the rest of the poll. Most African-Americans feel that we still have a long way to go. If Barack Obama wins, yes, it proves that many whites, maybe most whites -- hopefully most whites vote for him -- don't have the racial bias.

But that does not mean we have not -- we have dealt were the institutional racism in education and health care and the criminal justice system. There's still a long way to go.

We've seen cities elect black mayors, but it didn't mean that the problems of bias stopped in those cities. I think it was unfair to put it on Barack Obama.

HANNITY: Michael Steele, do you think that that prove my point? Because racism exists, no doubt about it, but it is not the majority. And there's white on black racism and black on white racism. But most Americans judge people, I argue, by the content of their character.

STEELE: They do. They do, Sean, but I'll tell you, I've got a little funny feeling about the numbers. You know, after going through several state-wide races in a state like Maryland, I just don't believe the number is as high as 70 percent among whites. I just don't.

HANNITY: What do you -- what do you think?

STEELE: I think the number is probably closer to something around 55 or 60 percent. I don't think it's that high. I think people say those things to pollsters to feel good about themselves. I think you see it in the poling. There's still a Bradley Effect.

SHARPTON: And he's a Republican.

HANNITY: I want to follow up.

STEELE: Let me just finish my point.

HANNITY: Explain that Bradley Effect for our audience.

STEELE: The Bradley Effect is Bill Bradley, when he ran for governor, every indication, just like it was in Wilder's case, was that he was going to win this election. It turns out he did not. The folks basically lied to the pollsters and said, "Hey, I'm voting for the black guy," and they didn't.

COLMES: Lieutenant Governor...

STEELE: The reality still remains very much as Al has said, that there's still systematic issues that need to be addressed within the black community.

And I please hope we get over this notion that one black man is going to solve that problem. Whether he's president of the United States or the biggest civil rights activist in the world, it's going to take a collective effort between blacks and whites, and all Americans.

COLMES: Lieutenant Governor Steele, are you saying that a large percentage of Americans are indeed racist when they say one thing to the pollster, the Bradley Effect, without acknowledging how racist the country is?

STEELE: No, Alan, there you go. No, Alan, just because you don't want to vote for a black man or a white woman doesn't mean you're racist or sexist. It means that there are other issues that come to the fore.

But when that question is posed to you, because the general consensus is that everyone should be for something -- in this case, Barack Obama -- then "Yes, OK, sure, I'll vote for him."

COLMES: What you tell the pollster is one thing...

STEELE: I'm just trying to be realistic and clear about this. You've got -- you can't make these linkages, as we've tried to do in this campaign, that if I don't vote for this man, I'm a racist.

COLMES: Reverend Sharpton?

SHARPTON: I think that people do the Bradley Effect that Michael talked about. I think people do say things so they won't be perceived as biased.

STEELE: Exactly.

SHARPTON: And I think that when we reduce racism to just guys that fit the stereotype of a racist, we're not really understanding the racial bias in the country. There are a lot of good meaning people that have no problem with leaving things as they are, and as they are unequal.

So you don't need a guy that's going to go out and lynch somebody. You just need people to say, "I don't mind having people at a disadvantage" based on the institutional setting.

COLMES: Michael, one other question in the poll. Would electing Barack Obama be good in general for African-Americans?

STEELE: That remains to be seen.

SHARPTON: It would be good for all Americans. For all Americans.

COLMES: That's true. I agree with that. Go ahead.

STEELE: It would be good for all Americans, but, again, I think -- I think it's important that at some point -- and this is something I picked up at the NAACP convention while I was there -- that they like to hear a little bit more from Barack about some of those systemic issues that Reverend Sharpton just mentioned.

SHARPTON: You heard it first: Michael Steele just endorsed Barack Obama.

COLMES: He did say he'd be good for all Americans.

SHARPTON: Another breakthrough on "Hannity & Colmes."


STEELE: That ain't happening.

COLMES: We have the tape. All right. Thanks for...

SHARPTON: You said it would be good for all Americans.

COLMES: We continue -- we continue with our guests. I thank you very much for that segment.

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