(by Glenn Thrush, POLITICO MAGAZINE) -- Charles Bernard Rangel had just bounded out of a gleaming black Mercedes coupe onto the terra firma of 125th St. to kick off the final Sunday of his campaign when a reporter stopped him cold with a question about Barack Obama. Here was the sorest of subjects for Rangel, who had been repeatedly rebuffed in his attempt to get America’s first black president to back him in a life-or-death Democratic primary he promises will be his last.
Rangel responded with his broad, Kevlar grin, ingratiating and defensive all at once. “No, I haven’t spoken with him, and no, I’m not disappointed with him—he’s busy, he’s got his hands filled,” rasped Rangel, who isn’t nearly as popular as Obama in central Harlem, once but no longer the most important real estate in black political America.
“I don’t really think anyone really truly believes that I need the president of the United States of America to win. I don’t believe that. Do you think I need the president of the United States to win my district?” added Rangel, who has campaigned against Dominican-born challenger Adriano Espaillat and African-American pastor Michael Walrond with the vim of a man considerably younger than his 84 years.
Rangel paused and took a quick glance in the direction of a four-foot blue cross affixed to Antioch Baptist, a venerable Harlem church that occupies several storefronts. “Would it be helpful? Look, if God came down and handed out some literature for me that would be helpful too.”
With that, Rangel ambled into the sanctuary—past the 50 confused Spanish tourists who gawked at the well-dressed older gentleman with the quintuple-folded yellow pocket square—and contradicted himself. Standing at the pulpit, he first invoked God and then Barack Obama, portraying himself as the president’s apostle, put on Earth to protect Harlem and his president from those awful white Southern Republicans.
“They hate the president,” he told the Antioch faithful, a message he had repeat at five other church drop-ins on that sunny summer Sunday. “God sent us Barack Obama,” he told a congregation in 116th St. half an hour later, before heading up to West 153rd St. “These people carry hate in their heart … all of them come from states that used to hold Africans as slaves,” he told a packed house at the Bethany Baptist Church under a stained-glass window of Christ in prayer. “All of them hated Abe Lincoln! All of them really think that the Civil War is not over!”