Michael Dukakis, the Democrats' presumptive nominee, charges into the homestretch of the 1988 primaries with two major goals: Win delegates as quickly as possible to reach a majority of 2,081 by the final primaries June 7.
Avoid a major defeat by Jesse Jackson during the next six weeks, especially in the showcase primary in California. (Pennsylvania vote, P. 3.)
Although Governor Dukakis seems assured of the nomination, he can help his prospects immensely against the Republicans this fall by decisively vanquishing his last opponent in the field, the Rev. Mr. Jackson.
A strong finish will give Mr. Dukakis the air of a winner. It will also give him a freer hand to draft the party's platform, to select his running mate, and to deal firmly with Jackson's supporters.
If Dukakis collapses as he crosses the finish line, as Walter Mondale did in 1984 by losing California to Gary Hart, he could find himself under growing pressure to make concessions to Jackson.
Jackson aides have hinted broadly at what they want: a Dukakis-Jackson ticket, which they say would be in the best interests of party harmony.
But Dukakis slaps down such talk. ``If I were to finish second, it wouldn't entitle me to anything more than consideration, period,'' he says.
Such tough talk requires him to get a majority of delegates - without Jackson's help. Susan Brophy, deputy director of delegate selection for Dukakis, notes that 1,060 delegates are still to be selected in the primaries. Dukakis hopes to capture about 750. Added to the 1,070 he already has, that would bring him to about 1,820, still more than 200 delegates short of a majority.
``The rest will come from superdelegates and from delegates pledged to others, such as [Paul] Simon and [Albert] Gore,'' Ms. Brophy says. ``We think we will have the requisite number of delegates by the convention.''
There could be some shaky moments for Dukakis before that time, however. Especially in California.
Privately, some Democratic insiders say Jackson has a good shot at defeating Dukakis in California. Jackson, flush with cash for the first time this year, may spend as much as $2 million there for television and radio ads. There is a substantial black population in California. There is a large and influential group of liberal white voters who could be drawn to Jackson, and there is a growing Hispanic bloc that may find him attractive.
In last week's New York State primary, Jackson whipped Dukakis 57 to 38 percent among Hispanic voters, according to the ABC News exit poll. About 30 percent of the voters in California's Democratic primary are expected to be either black or Hispanic. A Dukakis loss in California could create a groundswell of support from many delegates to put Jackson on the ticket.
Mervin Field, director of the California Poll, says Jackson will have to expand his white vote significantly to defeat Dukakis statewide, however. Hispanic and black voters are concentrated in only 12 of the state's 45 congressional districts. Dukakis's ability to speak Spanish could also give his campaign a lift in California, as it did in Texas, Field suggests.
Jackson campaign sources say the Baptist minister would like to use California as a proving ground, to demonstrate to Democrats across the country that he is a viable candidate who can go one on one against the leading white candidate and win - or at least come close.
Bert Lance, a Jackson confidant, says it will not be necessary for Jackson to win any more primaries. Strong, second-place showings in a few places like Ohio and California will be enough to keep him a major player at the convention, Mr. Lance told reporters recently.
Delegate race: in the backstretch ...
Delegates at stake Date State/Event Democrats Republicans April 25 Utah caucuses 27 26
26 Pennsylvania primary 193 96 May 3 District of Columbia primary 24 14
Indiana primary 85 51
Ohio primary 174 88
10 Nebraska primary 29 25
West Virginia primary 44 28
17 Oregon primary 51 32
24 Idaho Republican primary 0 22 June 7 California primary 336 175
Montana primary 25 20
New Jersey primary 118 64
New Mexico primary 28 26
14 North Dakota primary 20 16 July 18-21 Democratic National Convention,
Atlanta: 2,082 delegate votes
required to win nomination Aug. 15-18 Republican National Convention,
New Orleans: 1,139 delegate
votes to win nomination