4-way race for presidency in '96 intrigues Jackson

May 27, 1994|By ROGER SIMON

WASHINGTON -- The dark blue Lincoln pulls up to the front of the Sheraton Carlton Hotel, a few blocks from the White House.

It bears the Washington, D.C., license plates "U.S. Senator A," which means it is Jesse Jackson's car, even though he is not really a U.S. senator.

Jackson figures that as long as he can't have the job, he at least ought to have the plates.

Just when the District of Columbia will become a state and make Jackson a senator is a good question. Some think the district is heading toward receivership faster than it is heading toward statehood.

And asked later this day if he thinks Bill Clinton and Al Gore are doing all they can for statehood, Jackson responds sharply: "Of course they are not! If he [Clinton] had campaigned as vigorously for statehood as he did for NAFTA -- handed out a few jobs and a few breakfasts -- we could have gotten [the] votes!"

NAFTA is still a sore point with Jackson. He, as well as other Democrats, opposed it, but it passed because Bill Clinton did hand out those jobs and did hold those breakfasts.

The fight over NAFTA created one of the stranger alliances in political history, that between Jackson and Ross Perot.

They don't have much in common except they both have run for president: Jackson in the Democratic primaries of 1984 and 1988 and Perot as an independent in 1992.

Jackson could have run as an independent, but he has stayed a Democrat partly in the hope that if he failed to get the presidential nomination, he would be offered the vice presidential slot.

It is now pretty clear to him, however, that this is unlikely to happen. The Democratic Party has been edging away from Jackson for years.

Clinton (as well as Gore) is a former chairman of the Democratic Leadership Conference, formed in part to reduce the influence of Jesse Jackson on Democratic politics.

And Clinton declared himself to be a "different kind of Democrat" in his 1992 campaign, moving to the center and away from Jackson. This gained Clinton white support without costing him significant black support.

But Jackson has never forgiven Clinton, and Jackson's attacks on the president have grown vitriolic.

"The administration embraces a recovery that it did not cause, while abandoning a covenant it did not keep," Jackson said in February. "Poverty is deepening, inequality is growing, hope is shrinking."

So what is Jackson going to do about it? Asked on "Meet the Press" several months ago if he would rule out running against Clinton in 1996, Jackson said: "I would never rule it out. Nor will I rule out being limited anymore just to the Democratic Party option."

That last sentence made ears perk up. Was Jackson really considering an independent run?

William Schneider, a political analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, thinks it could work. He has cooked up a scenario he calls the "Great Political Crack-up."

Schneider can foresee four parties contending for the presidency in 1996: the Democrats headed by Clinton, the Republicans headed by somebody, a party headed by Perot and a party headed by Jackson.

"In a four-way race it is conceivable that Jackson could carry some Southern states on a solid black vote, with the white vote split among Clinton, Perot and the Republican," Schneider writes. "Similarly, Perot could carry some liberal states where Clinton is weak, Jackson is strong and conservative Republicans have a limited base."

If both Jackson and Perot run as independents in 1996, Schneider believes, the Democratic vote and the Republican vote can both split, making it possible for Jackson or Perot to win the presidency.

That scenario may be a "crack-up" in more ways than one, but at least one person seems to be interested in it: Jackson.

Schneider was quoted last month as saying that Jackson has "solicited his analysis on a Jackson independent presidential challenge in 1996."

So, standing next to him outside his limousine a few days ago, I asked Jackson if he was considering a third-party run. His response was in fluent Jacksonese:

"If people are disengaged from either party, they can look for a way out or become cynical and not vote," he said. "I choose engagement and more involvement rather than cynicism and disengagement."

Translation: Maybe.

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