The message Democrats have sent their party is now overwhelmingly clear: They want Michael Dukakis as their nominee in the fall presidential election. The clear victories for Governor Dukakis in the Indiana and Ohio primaries Tuesday set that message in political concrete. ``Mike Dukakis has buttoned down the [Democratic] nomination earlier than any other candidate since Lyndon Johnson,'' says William R. Sweeney, a Democratic consultant. ``That is very significant.''
The Dukakis campaign now hopes to get the nomination without the help of delegates pledged to the Rev. Jesse Jackson or delegates still tied to the suspended candidacies of Sens. Paul Simon and Albert Gore Jr.
If the Massachusetts governor does well in the large California and New Jersey primaries June 7, and if he attracts many of the Democratic superdelegates, he could get the nomination in Atlanta on the first ballot. The superdelegates are state and local Democratic officeholders, members of Congress, and other party officials who have been selected without prior commitment to any candidate.
``Mike Dukakis owns the Democratic Party establishment lock, stock, and barrel,'' says Mr. Sweeney, president of Washington Resources and Strategy.
The Associated Press estimates that Dukakis has close to 1,500 delegates compared with about 920 for the Rev. Mr. Jackson. With 2,081 delegates needed for the nomination, Dukakis will be in very good position even if he wins only half of the remaining delegates.
Jackson will concentrate his efforts and resources on the California race, but he knows the going will be tough. Jackson said Tuesday night that his campaign is moving forward with ``a headwind in [our] faces.'' But political analysts say Jackson should do better in California than he has done in recent races.
``It would be hard for [Dukakis] to win a 2-to-1 victory in California,'' says Democratic analyst Peter Fenn.
Mr. Fenn's advice to Jackson would be to remain an active candidate. ``[Jackson] has a strong following ... he is raising money at a fairly decent clip ... he has now shifted from a grass-roots, pass-the-hat at the churches [style of fund raising] to high-tech [and] raising money at Beverly Hills parties,'' says Fenn, a partner in Fenn and King Communications. ``He might as well continue on through the California primary ... and amass as many delegates as he can and go into the convention with some strength.''
David Doak, a former adviser to Rep. Richard Gephardt's campaign, agrees with Fenn.
``Jesse doesn't feel the same forces that other candidates feel,'' Mr. Doak says. ``He doesn't necessarily need money to retain his base vote. Black voters are going to vote for Jesse ... just if his name is on the ballot. In this process, [if white candidates] are depicted as a loser [their] vote tends to go down and down and down.''
The Dukakis campaign is also eager for Jackson to stay active, since Jackson's efforts help build a voter base Dukakis can tap in the general election. The governor has expressed concern over a sense of apathy that could settle in, now that everyone agrees the nomination is his.
Jackson did not fare well with white voters in Indiana and Ohio. According to an ABC News exit poll, he pulled only 17 percent of the white vote in Ohio and 13 percent in Indiana. He has won as much as 20 percent of the white vote in some contests.
Yet Dukakis fared even worse with blacks, pulling only 8 percent of the black vote in Indiana and 6 percent in Ohio, according to the same poll. The governor did win significant majorities in all other demographic groups, however.
As in previous contests, Dukakis benefited from an opposition vote to Jackson. Voters still do not know the Massachusetts governor very well: One out of three primary voters in Ohio and Indiana couldn't identify whether he was a liberal or conservative.
Exit polling by CBS News indicates that a third of those voting for Dukakis in Ohio and Indiana had voted for President Reagan. Only two out of three of these former GOP supporters said they would vote for Dukakis over Bush in the general election, however.
The latest results in Tuesday's three primaries show Dukakis winning 63 percent of the vote to Jackson's 27 percent in Ohio, and Dukakis leading Jackson 70 percent to 22 percent in Indiana. In the nation's capital, however, Jackson trounced Dukakis, taking 80 percent of the vote to Dukakis's 18 percent.
Vice-President George Bush, running virtually unopposed in the Republican race, won handsomely in all three primaries.
Democratic race: the delegate count Dukakis 1,486.15 Jackson 927.10 Gore 421.55 Simon 184.50 Other 3.00 Uncommitted 561.75 Needed to nominate: 2,081.00 Total delegate votes: 4,161.00 Chosen thus far: 3,399.55 Still to be chosen: 761.45 Source: Associated Press