Problem for Jackson campaign: how to woo white voters
Atlanta — Scene 1: the Rev. Jesse Jackson, running 90 minutes late, arrives in a small hotel conference room here for a breakfast address to supporters. Almost everyone in the room is black. He starts slowly, with little inflection in his voice, but soon he sounds like the preacher he is. Heads start nodding in agreement. The audience joins him with increasing numbers of ''A-mens,'' ''Say it,'' ''Tell it.''
His theme: Remember the poor. ''We're driven by a moral imperative,'' he says. ''A government of the people, by the people, and for the people must feed the hungry, clothe the naked, liberate the captive, and provide justice for all its citizens.
''We're not asking for welfare - we're asking for our share, and the time has come.''
Scene 2: Mr. Jackson, moments later, stands before the Georgia House of Representatives, invited there by a special resolution that morning. It was on the other side of this building with the gold-leafed dome that the Georgia Senate once temporarily blocked the seating of newly elected black state Sen. Julian Bond (still a state senator).
Here Jackson's theme again is the poor. But except for the polite standing ovation as he arrives and leaves, his reception is cooly quiet. The mostly white group of legislators leans back in stuffed rockers and listens.
Scene 3: an evening rally at the city's huge civic center. Only a modest crowd fills the down-front aisles. There are few whites among them.
As these scenes, which took place before the New Hampshire debate of the Democratic candidates, and interviews and polls show, the hard fact facing the Jackson campaign is that few of his supporters here, across the South, or nationally are white.
There are not enough nonwhite votes to obtain the nomination even if they all went to Jackson, which is unlikely.
Even most blacks interviewed here see Jackson's chances of winning the Democratic nomination as slight. One of his state campaign organizers calls it no more than ''a long shot.''
Yet there is something happening as the result of the Jackson campaign that is stirring the black community as few events have in recent years. There is a certain buoyancy among his supporters here, for example.
''I see Jesse as the only black that has been able to rally blacks nationwide'' like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., says Bobby Hurd, a local Jackson supporter. ''He gives young black folks a sense of identification. . . .''
''I have not felt the kind of esprit de corps, of people that have been locked out of the system, since the late '60s,'' says Roy Patterson, a local TV producer and former radio talk show host here.
Holman Edmond Jr., a black who is active with the Democratic Party in Georgia , looks at the Jackson campaign this way: ''If you ask me, 'Will he win the presidency or the nomination?' Probably not.'' But, he says, Jackson will ''win'' if he simply helps attract enough voters to the polls to help get more local black officials elected.
''We've already won,'' says the Rev. Cameron Alexander, president of the General Missionary Baptist Convention of Georgia and a Jackson supporter. At the recent breakfast he introduced Jackson as ''the crusader, the emancipator, the candidate, the man, the prophet.''
In midspeech, the candidate brought his audience to its feet with this statement: ''I shall measure Atlanta's (progress) not by the new hotels downtown , but by Perry Homes,'' a public housing project in Atlanta.
After his address to the legislators, first-term Democrat Don Oliver said: ''I think the issues he addressed (in the speech) are some very important issues. I'd like to see some of the other candidates address them more seriously.''
But so far, Jackson's campaign has not caught on among whites. The latest Gallup poll (before his trip to Syria) showed him to be the choice of about 10 percent of the Democrats with only about 3 percent white.