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THE 2004 CAMPAIGN: THE CONSULTANT; Sharpton's Bid Aided by an Unlikely Source - The New York Times

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THE 2004 CAMPAIGN: THE CONSULTANT; Sharpton's Bid Aided by an Unlikely Source

By Michael Slackman

  • Jan. 25, 2004

The Rev. Al Sharpton has demonstrated his quick wit and deft use of one-liners in his campaign for president. But while the delivery has been all his own, he had help shaping his message from an unlikely source: Roger Stone, a political consultant who worked for Richard M. Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

Mr. Stone, who describes himself as a Republican-libertarian, has had a hand in some of Mr. Sharpton's most effective attacks on Howard Dean, aides to Mr. Sharpton said. By extension, he has played a role in shaping the dynamic of the Democratic primary, political strategists and observers said.

Mr. Stone, like Mr. Sharpton, is a larger-than-life character with a flamboyant personal style who is both revered and reviled for his work. A 1985 cover story in The New Republic magazine described Mr. Stone as ''the State-of-the-Art Washington Sleazeball.'' Mr. Stone called the article a ''political hit job.''

Today Mr. Stone says he loves helping Mr. Sharpton.

''Frankly,'' Mr. Stone said in a recent telephone interview, ''there has not been a candidate with this much charisma since Ronald Reagan. He is a natural talent. Who else could do the funky chicken on television and get away with it? I don't share his politics. Let's be very clear, if you check the F.E.C. records you will see I am supporting George W. Bush. I am a Reagan Republican.''

But the men have found a common agenda in the Democratic primary. They have delighted in skewering Dr. Dean, with Mr. Sharpton generating one of Dr. Dean's lowest moments in a debate when he forced him to admit he had no blacks or Hispanics in his cabinet when he was governor of Vermont.

''I saw Roger's fingerprints all over that,'' said the developer Donald Trump, who has worked with Mr. Stone over the past two decades.

Mr. Stone did not want to discuss the specifics of his relationship with Mr. Sharpton, but aides Mr. Sharpton confirmed his involvement in that and other aspects of the campaign.

Mr. Sharpton acknowledged that he frequently spoke with Mr. Stone, but said he consulted with many political strategists.

''I talk to him from time to time on his perspective,'' Mr. Sharpton said in a recent interview. ''Does he have a role in this campaign? Do I consider him an adviser? No.''

But aides to Mr. Sharpton said Mr. Stone's role is far more central. The aides said that he consults with Mr. Stone about once a week and that Mr. Stone helped give shape and purpose to a campaign that was floundering.

Mr. Stone has advised Mr. Sharpton before national debates, encouraged him to implement a ''rapid response'' system, and introduced him to the man who became his national campaign manager, Charles Halloran, the aides said. Mr. Stone provides ideas and direction, while Mr. Halloran, who was an aide to Bill Clinton in his first campaign for president, does the front-line work.

In the attacks on Dr. Dean, for instance, Mr. Stone helped set the tone and direction while Mr. Halloran did the research. Mr. Halloran came up with Dr. Dean's hiring record as governor, for example, aides to Mr. Sharpton said.

It is Mr. Sharpton, of course, who ultimately decides what he will say and how he will say it. As for Dr. Dean, he has stumbled for many reasons, but he was deemed hurt by the attack, as well as Mr. Sharpton's criticism in an earlier debate over Dr. Dean's remark that he wants ''to be the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks.''

By all accounts, Mr. Stone is not being paid. So why he is doing it?

Tucker Carlson, the conservative co-host of CNN's ''Crossfire'' and another unlikely friend of Mr. Sharpton's, says he thinks it is because he, Mr. Stone and Mr. Sharpton all have ''disdain for white liberals.'' In his first autobiography, Mr. Sharpton expressed delight at holding street protests in New York because: ''Their facade is exposed. The great Northeastern liberals aren't so liberal anymore.''

Others say the explanation is that Mr. Stone just enjoys the rough-and-tumble of politics. He has been accused more than once of dirty tricks and, some political strategists believe, is enjoying egging on Mr. Sharpton, not necessarily to advance Mr. Stone's political agenda, but to satisfy his appetite for throwing a monkey-wrench.

''Roger doesn't have to get paid and he doesn't have to do politics,'' a political operative who has worked with Mr. Stone said. ''He has enough money. He is doing this because it's easy and it's sexy.''

Mr. Stone says that he genuinely likes Mr. Sharpton and that they are both anti-establishment types. ''The guy is a friend and I have given him advice as a friend,'' Mr. Stone said.

Though he is an avowed Republican, Mr. Stone has demonstrated a willingness to buck the Republican establishment. In 2002 he worked for Tom Golisano, a billionaire businessman from Rochester, in his third run for governor as the Independence party candidate. (Mr. Halloran was Mr. Golisano's campaign manager.) Mr. Stone helped orchestrate a barrage of advertising that attacked the record of the incumbent Republican governor, George E. Pataki, and raised the ire of many Republicans.

Mr. Stone acknowledges that when he was a teenager he recruited a mole to infiltrate George S. McGovern's campaign, among other tasks for the Nixon camp. He also worked on campaigns for Mr. Reagan and Mr. Bush, tried to rehabilitate Mr. Nixon's reputation just before his death, and went to Florida in 2000 to help Mr. Bush win the state. He also has done a lot of corporate lobbying.

''We played hardball in the Nixon days,'' Mr. Stone said.

Mr. Stone said he first met Mr. Sharpton at the Four Seasons hotel in Manhattan, where he used to go for dinner while working on the Golisano campaign. He said he used to see Mr. Sharpton eating there, too. ''We talked some politics; I liked him.''

Mr. Trump said he recalled introducing the two men years ago.

Mr. Stone said that by helping Mr. Sharpton attack Dr. Dean, and attack the Democratic Party leadership, he was actually doing the Democrats a favor.

''If his party doesn't produce a nominee and a platform that has appeal among the single most important part of the Democratic base, i.e., black and Latino voters, then they don't have a chance,'' Mr. Stone said. ''I think he is doing his party a service.''


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