Washington — The Illinois primary has left the Democratic race more confused than ever. Home-state Sen. Paul Simon won both the ``beauty contest'' and the most delegates, dashing the hopes of the Rev. Jesse Jackson - who took second - to win his first Northern industrial state.
The front-runner, Gov. Michael Dukakis, suffered a setback in Tuesday's voting. He finished a distant third and saw his delegate lead over Mr. Jackson shrink to just four.
For the Democrats, the continued lack of popular consensus on a standard bearer poses some problems. With no undisputed leader, and with ongoing bickering between the candidates, some Democratic activists worry that their eventual ticket will be weakened.
``Simon's favorite-son candidacy compounded the problem,'' says Murray Fishal, a political scientist at Kent State University. ``Had Dukakis been able to really muster substantial strength in Illinois, a kind of steam-roller effect would have occurred.''
Jackson moved quickly to discount his loss to Senator Simon, explaining yesterday that ``over the last 12 days I have run in 22 races, and he has focused on one state.''
``It seems to extend the choices,'' says Ann Lewis, a Democratic consultant and Jackson adviser, ``but I don't think that is going to last very long. ... Ultimately we are going to be down to three.''
Ms. Lewis is convinced that two of the three will be Mr. Jackson and Governor Dukakis. The burning question in Democratic circles in the next few weeks is who will be the third choice?
``The Dukakis inevitability argument took a bit of a hit,'' says Jim Margolis, a consultant who ran Walter Mondale's Illinois campaign in 1984. ``It's a little bit of a step backward for him.''
``There are a lot of questions yet unanswered in the minds of Democratic primary voters about the ultimate nominee,'' say Democratic pollster Alan Seacrest, ``and I don't think Dukakis is answering all those question yet.''
Most analysts agree, however, that Dukakis stands to do very well in coming contests because of his top-flight organization and well-stocked campaign coffers.
They say the Massachusetts governor took a risky strategy of raising expectations of his performance in Illinois. Pollster Seacrest says there is a danger in campaigns that become too large of ``believing the echo instead of the reality.''
All eyes are now on next week's Michigan Democratic caucus.
Simon says he doesn't expect to win in Michigan, but he does hope to pick up a few delegates and maintain some momentum. He is looking beyond Michigan to Wisconsin and New York, where he expects to do well. ``If I can do well in those two states,'' Simon said yesterday, ``all of a sudden we are going to be on a roll - the big mo [momentum] is going to be with me.''
Not everyone shares Simon's optimism.
``Simon is basically dead,'' says Professor Fishal. ``He's got no money [and] I don't think he is perceived as a viable candidate anymore. I just don't see him making headway elsewhere.''
Fishal, who also consults for congressional and local campaigns, is equally pessimistic over the chances of Missouri Congressman Richard Gephardt.
``Gephardt's message has just not taken off,'' Fishal says. ``I think he is becoming increasingly irrelevant. He may do well in Michigan simply because of the xenophobia of his [trade] message.''
In the popular vote, Simon won 43 percent, followed by 31 percent for Jackson, 17 percent for Dukakis, 5 percent for Sen. Albert Gore, and just 1 percent for Mr. Gephardt.
In the more important delegate race, Jackson added 36, bringing his cumulative total to 460.55, to Dukakis's 464.5. Simon swept up the remaining 137 delegates, leaving the other candidates empty-handed.
Total delegate counts to date DEMOCRATS Dukakis 464.50 Gephardt 145 Gore 354.80 Jackson 460.55 Simon 171.50 Uncommitted 272.65 Needed to nominate: 2,082 Total delegate votes: 4,162 Chosen thus far: 1,869 Still to be chosen: 2,293 REPUBLICANS Bush 772 Dole 180 Robertson 17 Uncommitted 72 Needed to nominate: 1,139 Total delegate votes: 2,277 Chosen thus far: 1,041 Still to be chosen: 1,236 Source: Associated Press