WASHINGTON -- Although Jesse Jackson is not a candidate for president, he continues to campaign for support from black voters, damaging Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder's bid for the Democratic nomination, aides to the governor claim.
"Jackson is eating sour grapes now," says one Wilder insider. "His ego can't stand being out of the [presidential] race. He wants to be the power broker."
Jackson denied the claim. "That's foolishness," he said this week. "People who voted for me in 1988 are free to vote for who inspires them. I can't deliver their votes."
Underlying the angry exchange is a long-standing competition between Jackson and Wilder over which is the pre-eminent force in black political circles, observers and political analysts say.
"Doug's positions have been the political opposites of Jesse's," said Colorado state Sen. Regis F. Groff, president of the 450-member National Black Caucus of State Legislators.
Ronald Walters, a Howard University political scientist, called the spat between Wilder and Jackson a reprise of the "Clarence Thomas syndrome."
He said the controversy raises the same question posed by Thomas' nomination to the Supreme Court last summer: should black Americans accept the views of a prominent and conservative black or fall in line with traditional liberal black leadership at the risk of destroying another black leader?
Walters, who advises Wilder and who helped with Jackson's failed campaigns in 1984 and 1988, said many black voters know little about Wilder -- but would vote for him because he is the first black man elected governor.
Groff, who hosted both men at the caucus' annual meeting in Las Vegas last month, said Jackson upstaged the nominee and encouraged caucus members to wait before they committed to any candidate.
He said many of the caucus members came away from the convention feeling that Jackson's behavior was "payback for the way Wilder had treated him when he was running" for president.