The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson is retooling. Not only is he obviously preparing for a rerun in the 1988 presidential sweepstakes, but he is rolling in high gear to structure a strong political foundation through his ``National Rainbow Coalition.'' In addition, he has taken steps to revitalize Operation PUSH (People United to Serve Humanity), the Chicago-based civil rights organization he founded 14 years ago.
Accomplishing his goals will not be as easy for Mr. Jackson the second time around, says Malvin E. Moore Jr., professor of education at Southern Illinois University.
``Jesse is alert and articulate,'' Dr. Moore says. ``He has a unique style, his own version of the stomp down, Baptist fire-and-brimstone hard-sell, yet great and smooth. But a pure leader of black people I rather doubt. That takes nothing from him. I was proud to vote for him because he's black, and I'm black.
``Yet, I'd say that although he corralled the black vote, he's not a black-appointed leader. He knows how to utilize his talents to create a winning media presence. And I must add -- there's a thing called color.''
Holding on to black voters may not be a cinch for the ``country preacher.'' Since the 1984 election, blacks have changed and the results made headlines in New Jersey and Virginia Nov. 6.
Blacks bypassed the Democratic Party in New Jersey. They voted to reelect Republican Thomas Kean as governor, a candidate they ignored four years ago.
In Virginia state Sen. L. Douglas Wilder became the commonwealth's first black lieutenant governor. During the campaign he nixed two appearances by the Rev. Mr. Jackson in his behalf, and he also pushed law and order as a key campaign issue.
To maintain the momentum of 1984, Jackson faces serious challenges. He must:
Convince the Democratic National Committee to alter its rules for alloting convention delegates to presidential hopefuls. He says he was underrepresented at the 1984 Democratic Convention because party rules require a candidate to get 20 percent of the popular vote in a primary to earn a delegate to the convention. He wants this requirement reduced to 10 percent.
Gain approval of civil rights leaders. Most civil rights leaders did not back the Jackson campaign in 1984, although their followers voted for him.
Reverse the tendency of high-level black politicians to shy away from a Jackson candidacy. For example, the Congressional Black Caucus failed to endorse Jackson in 1984.
The Democratic Party is not likely to accept the Jackson proposal for apportioning delegates, says Terry Michael, Democratic National Committee (DNC) press secretary. The DNC is more likely to accept a change proposed by its fairness commission, a requirement to get 15 percent of the popular vote before candidates earn delegates, he says.
Mr. Michael lists other commission-proposed reforms -- allowing states to hold open primaries to attract independents to the party and including as national convention delegates more elected officials and all 372 members of the Democratic National Committee.
``Our goal is to keep the presidential nominating process open and fair, and not to appease a specific individual,'' Michael says.
Another factor that may affect Jackson's political future is the appearance of new books about him.
The Rainbow Coalition, which drew few whites last year, must become a reality if Jackson is to progress, says Barbara Reynolds, author of an ``unauthorized'' biography, ``Jesse Jackson: America's David.'' She says: ``Jesse proved he could unify the black vote in 1984. But can he broaden his impact to include his targeted constituency -- the rainbow of what some call the disaffected majority?''
This group includes farmers, peace advocates, public education reformers, Hispanics, native Americans, Asians, and other minorities, says Ms. Reynolds, who is also a member of the editorial board of USA Today.
``Many people consider Jesse a media-designated black leader, a charismatic, quotable person,'' she says.
``Run, Jesse, run'' may not be the chant of 1988, suggest Thomas Landess and Richard Quinn in their soon-to-be-published ``Jesse Jackson and the Politics of Race.'' They say he may not be the man who black leaders are willing to fully endorse.
Jackson takes a broader view of his constituency. ``We have to organize ourselves politically. The Rainbow attracted 3.5 million votes in 1984 without money and local organizations. We must bring all Americans together.''
What will Jackson do next? He does not say. The Rainbow Coalition will not become a third party, he says. He could run for office from one of three ``home'' addresses -- in Chicago where his family resides, in South Carolina where he was born, in Washington, D.C., where he also has a residence.