Jackson a Strategic Absence
By Kevin Merida
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Where was Jesse?
In the last several weeks of the battle for South Carolina, a slew of comedians, actors, congressmen and other notables have traipsed into and out of the state as surrogates for Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards. But one of the most prominent figures in Democratic politics over the past 25 years, and a native son of South Carolina, was absent.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who has endorsed Obama and who won the state's 1988 Democratic caucus with 64 percent of the vote, was not asked to campaign here.
"A candidate has the right to choose his own surrogates and choose them strategically," Jackson told The Trail by phone on Saturday night.
But though Jackson was diplomatic, some of his supporters were not.
Kevin Gray, a longtime South Carolina activist and state coordinator of Jackson's '88 campaign, said white Democrats have long operated on the fear that if you bring Jackson into the state you scare off white voters. "And Obama has taken the same position," Gray said. "You can't invite Jesse to campaign in his home state, but you can invite all the people who fought our agenda to be on stage?"
Gray included in that roster such Obama supporters as former Gov. Jim Hodges and former South Carolina Democratic Chairman Dick Harpootlian.
Candice Tolliver, a spokesman for the Obama campaign, said there was no effort to distance Jackson in South Carolina and that Obama very much appreciates Jackson's support. "The idea that there is some kind of gulf between the senator and Rev. Jackson is false," she said.
In any case, it didn't appear that the Obama campaign needed Jackson this time, as it ran away with the black vote. Jackson got 90 percent of the black vote in his '88 bid.
Maybe the Obama campaign had no use for Jackson here, but John Edwards did. In the closing days of the campaign, a flier circulated to black households included a blown-up quote from Jackson that appeared on Nov. 27, 2007 in the Chicago Sun-Times: "The Democratic candidates -- with the exception of John Edwards, who opened his campaign in New Orleans' Ninth Ward and has made addressing poverty central to his campaign -- have virtually ignored the plight of African Americans in this country."
Web Politics Editor
January 26, 2008; 8:43 PM ET
Categories: Barack Obama , Hillary Rodham Clinton , John Edwards , Primaries , The Democrats
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