Jesse Jackson's fortunes suffered from the Chicago mayoral race, but how much depends on whether his 1992 goal is winning the Democratic presidential nomination or being a rallying point for the left.
Jackson's decision to back a black independent and oppose the Democratic nominee, Richard Daley Jr., who was elected mayor Tuesday, made it tougher for him to attract the white voters he needs to win the 1992 nomination.Even though he backed a loser in the Chicago fight, Jackson is unlikely to suffer among his core followers - blacks and white liberal activists. In fact, he'll probably win points with them.
There have never been enough voters in those two categories for Jackson to win the presidential nomination, so he has been trying to broaden his base of support to the mass of white voters.
Within the context of that effort, his actions in the Chicago election - where he appeared to be playing racial politics - are counterproductive.
Jerry Austin, Jackson's 1988 campaign manager, put it this way: "The (white) Joe Six-Pack type of guy has at times been enamored with Jesse Jackson but hasn't voted for him. What is going to make that kind of guy vote for him? Whenever he sees Jackson in the national media, Jackson is either at some black event or the Eastern airlines people" - meaning that Jackson is associated more with minorities or dispossessed groups than with mainstream voters.
Austin's assessment of Jackson's position after Chicago: "I think it's a problem for him ... It digs the hole deeper."
Moderates - who are not generally Jackson fans - were quick to take advantage of this setback.
The Chicago election "diminishes Jesse Jackson's impact significantly," said former Democratic national treasurer Peter Kelly. "What becomes clear is (that) he is not just a Democrat, but he's a black first."
Even respected pollster Paul Maslin, who works for liberals although not Jackson, has questions.
"Can Jackson, in the glare coming out of the 1988 election and this year's elections that focus on race, continue to support his base and people and things he believes?" Maslin asks.
And if he does, "does that trap him from extending his message to the middle ground of the electorate?"
Maslin thinks Jackson, who pioneered the drug issue in the 1988 campaign, probably will return to it in the coming months as a way to appeal across racial lines.
Democratic national vice chairman Jim Ruvolo, who also is Ohio party chairman, said, "It's certainly a political problem for him. But how he reacts to it is the bigger test.
"If his reaction is still to place himself out of the Democratic Party in Chicago and Illinois, then it's a major error. If he reacts to overtures (from the party), then it's not so much a problem. A lot of people are going to watch the next couple of months closely."