Washington — Ronald Reagan flies to Chicago on Friday, carrying the banner for Republicans - and for George Bush. Meanwhile, Jesse Jackson has started recording radio commercials to help Democrats - and Michael Dukakis.
President Reagan and the Rev. Mr. Jackson are each a ``third force'' at work in the 1988 presidential race. If the election is close, their input could provide the winning margin for either side.
California pollster Mervin Field says both Reagan and Jackson have similar roles. Reagan can rally support among conservatives, especially in the South, and Jackson can arouse liberals, especially within the black and Hispanic communities.
In addition, the President can reach across party lines to so-called Reagan Democrats, and to independents. Jackson's reach doesn't extend that far.
In Chicago Reagan will target two groups that Vice-President Bush desperately needs. He will speak to business people, a traditional source of Republican strength. He will also travel to a Polish restaurant, where he will be talking to the kind of traditionally Democratic, ethnic voters who helped put him into office in 1980, and gave him a landslide victory in 1984.
Jackson's principal work will be among black voters. Among his efforts was a recent column, ``Ten Reasons Why Black Americans Should Vote for Mike Dukakis,'' that was aimed at publications with mostly black readers.
``The problem with Jackson's third-force capability is that ... in certain areas it could be a plus, but in others, a minus,'' Mr. Field says. ``You could say the same thing about Reagan, but less so.''
What has impressed analysts is the clever way the Republicans are utilizing the President.
For a while, there was concern that Reagan would overshadow Bush. The vice-president's image problem was serious after eight years in the President's shadow, and Reagan might have worsened it.
Reagan's speeches seldom mention Bush, however. Instead, he defends his own years and raises fears about Dukakis.
``This election is about the future,'' Reagan told a fund-raising dinner in Houston last week. ``Do we want a future that continues and expands on the policies that have brought America back and standing tall? ... Or do we want a future that seems like a depressing rerun of the years of malaise?''
He never fails to remind voters of the previous Democratic White House: ``When we came into office, families everywhere were bleeding from tax rates that sapped our nation's initiative.''
He interprets Governor Dukakis's campaign speeches:
``When they say `opportunity,' they mean `subsidies.' When they say `closing the deficit,' they mean `raising taxes.' When they talk about a `strong defense,' they mean `cutting defense spending.'''
Dukakis has been slower to use Jackson, largely because the two men had trouble working out a rapprochement. Jackson was upset that his top staff was not incorporated into the Dukakis campaign. Nor was he given a leading role.
Field says Jackson's most effective role would be a quiet, behind-the-scenes drive to register another million black voters, and then get them to the polls. But Jackson, who thrives on media attention, probably ``would not want the job,'' Field suggests.