THE REVEREND Jesse Jackson has moved to Washington, D.C., where he is reported to be considering running for mayor next year. If he runs and wins, it will make at least one Washingtonian very happy. That is George Bush, currently a resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW (Ward 2).
It is no secret that Jesse Jackson would like to be the leader of, and a spokesman for, the Democratic Party. A great many Republicans, including President Bush, have their own reasons for wanting to see Jackson become the leader of, and a spokesman for, the Democratic Party. And, as some Republican strategists are beginning to realize, if Jackson became mayor, President Bush and his advisers could help make that happen.
Imagine the media opportunities. Not a state dinner would take place without the mayor in attendance. Not a foreign guest would visit Washington without paying a courtesy call on the man treated by the administration as the leader of the opposition. No event could occur in the nation’s capital -not a Supreme Court ruling or a congressional vote or a presidential decision— without the press’s being urged to call upon Jackson fora response.
Why does Jackson create a problem for Democrats? First, because he is controversial. Jackson elicited a 4—3 unfavorable rating among voters polled on Election Day last year by the Los Angeles Times and Cable New s Network. Second, because he draws support from a narrow racial and ideological base.
Jackson virtually owned the black vote in last year’s presidential primaries. The New York Times constructed a profile of the national Democratic-primary electorate from exit-poll percentages in thirty primary states. The results showed Jackson winning 92 percent of the black vote but only 12 percent of the white vote. That is an enormous discrepancy—and a problematic one for Democrats, who must compete in a national electorate that last November was 85 percent white.
Moreover, according to ABC News, “Jackson’s white support in primaries came . . . mostly from liberal, upscale, well-educated voters.” In other words, Jackson leads a coalition of blacks and white liberals. That is not exactly a formula for winning presidential elections in this country. It may, however, be a formula for winning mayoral elections in Washington, D.C., which is a city of blacks and white liberals.
If Jackson became mayor, Bush would win points for treating the nation’s leading black spokesman with dignity and respect. At the same time, Bush would be promoting exactly the image that he and the Republican chairman, Lee Atwater, want to promote of the Democratic Party—as the party of blacks and white liberals. Only this time Bush could do it without the harsh rhetoric and inflammatory innuendo of the 1988 campaign. Instead, he could do it kindly and gently.
— William Schneider