Al Sharpton: Backing vs. Endorsing Obama

This is a rush transcript from "America's Election HQ," March 19, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

BILL HEMMER, CO-HOST: He is a silent supporter, Reverend Al Sharpton saying that he backs Obama but will not officially endorse the senator for president. He said this in part though, "I'm going to do whatever I got to do to help you," meaning Obama. "Hillary Clinton has never done nothing for us."

Reverend Al Sharpton is here now. It's nice to see you in person in studio. Hillary Clinton has never done nothing for us, do you stand by that?

REV. AL SHARPTON, NATIONAL ACTION NETWORK: Well, why don't you read the whole statement? I said, she's never done nothing for us as an organization, talking about the National Action Network. The connotation is that I was talking about black. That is not what the article said though, did it?

HEMMER: Reading on National Action Network: "Sharpton says he was referring to that not the black community." But the question was: How did that comment go over?

SHARPTON: That's exactly I went over. I was speaking to the people at National Action Network over the weekend with all of this controversy and some people felt that Senator Obama should stand all the way, unequivocally, no questions asked, by his pastor. And I said that I've said that I think that what Senator Obama is trying to do to heal the country, the kind of campaign that he's run, I support.

I think that Senator Clinton certainly can't call on me not say don't support him, she's never done anything for us. That's the context. I'm talking to my organization, my organizations rally. And I'm talking about my personal feelings for the organization (INAUDIBLE).

HEMMER: Let me ask you a different one, have you asked for her support for that network?

SHARPTON: No, I don't. I don't ask anybody for support. But a lot of people assume that many people in New York, whether you're national- based or not are not going to do anything because the Clintons, you owe something politically. And that's not my position.

HEMMER: All right. Here we are, it's third week of March, will you vote for Obama or Clinton?

SHARPTON: If I'd vote for the Democratic nominee, at this point, I think Obama has run the better campaign. I think he's raised the better issues.

HEMMER: Why not endorse him publicly then?

SHARPTON: Because I've said that I'm not endorsing anyone. Because I do not, as I said in that article, I do not want to be limited in my civil rights work, so that I'd say, "oh I better not do that, it will hurt the candidate or the candidate have to explain what I'm doing." I know all the candidates.

HEMMER: Are you leaving the door open just a crack here depending on what comes (INAUDIBLE)?

SHARPTON: I would probably support whoever the Democratic nomination -- nominee is. I will not leaving the door over open to make an endorsement before that. I'll go out there with all the candidates and all of them, said they would be -- I work for John Kerry, the whole campaign, flew all over the country for him.

It's not a question of being a equivocal leader, but at this point I would like to not make a formal endorsement though I must say as I said, I have no problems with how Senator Obama has handled this situation and the vision he's given for the country.

HEMMER: We were just listening to Jane Hall and Juan Williams debate this Obama pastor story again. The speech is a day and a half old now. It has had time to percolate out there and marinate a little bit. As you look at this now, how much has it cost Barack Obama to the American public?

SHARPTON: I don't know. I think that is unfortunate that he, whatever it costs, that he's being charged with something that he didn't say, and something that was established and with most of these tapes he was even present for. I think that it is a sad day where now parishioners are charged with what their ministers said even in their absense.

HEMMER: I'm not sure I've heard that so much, but what I've heard is the mere association is what grates on people now.

SHARPTON: But I think if you deal with the fact, Bill, and all facts, that Jeremiah Wright is a prominent minister, Oprah Winfrey used to attend the church, judges, elected officials. If I was a young man coming to Chicago and going to build a family, why wouldn't I go to one of the most prominent churches in the city, and why on earth aren't other people asked why they are associated with it? Maybe a lot of what you're seeing is not the ministrial trait.

HEMMER: Well, to be fair, those people aren't running for president, now, there is Oprah Winfrey.

I'm out of time. We'll leave on that one to pick it up again. OK? Promise?

SHARPTON: You clipped me by the cut-off. Give me a rematch.

HEMMER: I didn't clip you. I gave three and a half minutes. I'll give you a rematch next time.

SHARPTON: All right, good. Thank you.

HEMMER: Thank you.

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