The campaign of Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis is once again going toe to toe with the Rev. Jesse Jackson. The Dukakis camp has been slow to hire former Jackson staff members in its national headquarters, despite a commitment made by Mr. Dukakis at the Democratic convention in July. Moreover, Dukakis people last week were accused of telling the Rev. Mr. Jackson not to campaign in states where polling shows he has high negative ratings. Both Dukakis and Jackson deny that a list of no-go states was provided.
Dukakis spoke with Jackson twice over the weekend. Appointments of key Jackson aides to high-level spots on the Dukakis roster are expected by the end of the week, along with a plan detailing Jackson's campaign activities.
``I don't blame Jesse Jackson and others for wanting more expeditious movement,'' says Joe Warren, the Dukakis campaign secretary, ``because there is a fear that if we don't move fast enough and hard enough we are not going to win.'' Mr. Warren, who says the campaign is almost up to speed, is one of the highest-ranking blacks in the Dukakis camp.
Nonetheless, Dukakis must walk a fine line in his dealings with Jackson, just as he has done ever since he effectively wrapped up the Democratic nomination in June.
``It is no secret that there are a good amount of people ... wondering whether or not Michael Dukakis will be perceived as caving in to Jesse Jackson,'' says Dukakis adviser Ray Jordan. ``Consequently he has to be very careful that he deals with the situation fairly and even-handedly.''
``What's going to happen is the Jackson forces are going to say, `We did not get as much as we really wanted, but we are satisfied,''' Mr. Jordan says, ``and the Dukakis forces are going to say, `We gave up more than we wanted to do, but we are satisfied with the overall results.'''
Many Democratic Party leaders would like to see the situation resolved between the two men before the political rift becomes an election-day chasm. Black political leaders have long warned that many blacks would stay home on election day if they think Jackson has been treated shabbily.
``Unless they can patch it up ... it's going to hurt the Democratic chances in November,'' black Rep. William H. Gray III (D) of Pennsylvania said on a weekend news program. ``It is serious in the sense that by now this campaign should be running full steam ahead, and it is not.''
Jackson supporters came away from the Democratic convention in Atlanta expecting that some of their ranks would be integrated into the Dukakis camp, and that Jackson would be given resources to register new voters. As Labor Day approached, Jackson and some of his supporters began to warn that they were unhappy with how things were going. ``I need signals of sensitivity that reflect the urgency of now,'' Jackson said on a recent news show.
For Dukakis, the issue of how to deal with Jackson seems to be unresolved. While sending a clear message in Atlanta that he wanted the black leader's support, he has all but ignored Jackson since then.
Even so, Dukakis has made significant headway in bringing blacks and other minorities into his campaign. About 88 Jackson supporters, mostly in state offices, have been hired, and a total of 20 percent of his staff are minorities.
``We have the highest number of blacks and Hispanics ever in a presidential campaign,'' says Donna Brazile, who runs Dukakis's field operations. Recalling the 1984 campaign, when there were only seven blacks in the headquarters of Democratic nominee Walter Mondale, Ms. Brazile says ``this is great progress.'' ``I would not be truthful if I didn't say there could be more [done],'' Brazile admits. ``The fight is here [in Dukakis headquarters], in shaping policy as opposed to just there at the local level.''
A key sticking point is Jackson's desire to be the focal point for a national voter-registration drive. This summer the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Dukakis campaign decided to decentralize the funding for the registration drive, leaving Jackson without substantial resources to finance a national operation. Details on how Jackson will be integrated into the DNC plan should be announced later this week.
Members of Dukakis's senior staff insist that they are working hard to accommodate Jackson. They say the problem is more with the pace of their progress than with the sincerity of their desire to work with him.
``These last couple of weeks have been organizing days, and that will continue for the next few days,'' Dukakis issues director Christopher Edley explained in an interview last week. ``I think we are in a good position to follow through with the unity the party demonstrated in July.''