Presidential rivals George Bush and Michael Dukakis were talking tough on drugs and crime as Dukakis entered the second day of a Southern swing and Jesse Jackson headed for Texas to address that state's Democratic convention.

Bush, meanwhile, continued to struggle with the "gender gap" as an NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll gave the Massachusetts governor a 15-point lead nationwide over the vice president. Dukakis had a 52-28 lead among women voters.Dukakis, whose only Southern primary victories were in Florida and Texas, found less than smooth sailing on the first day of his Southern tour. In Tennessee to pick up the endorsement of former rival Al Gore Jr., he was put on the spot about allegations that Democratic House Speaker Jim Wright committed ethics violations.

Jackson, concluding a visit to the capital, continued to try to cash in his chips for helping mobilize black voters for Democratic candidates.

The "basic party leadership, while accepting my investment in the party to make it strong, has not been as reciprocal as it ought to be," Jackson said Thursday after meeting with 33 Democratic senators. He pressed at the meeting for more unpledged "super delegates" to the July Democratic convention to support him.

Dukakis, speaking to South Carolina high school students at a conference on drug and alcohol abuse, tried to shed any image of himself as a free-spending liberal in a region that went strongly for Ronald Reagan.

"People aren't interested in labels," he said. "I've balanced nine budgets in a row, while the self-styled conservatives in the White House haven't been able to balance the budget in eight years."

He also cited his administration's record in reducing crime in Massachusetts.

Dukakis was meeting today with law enforcement officials from around the country who are backing his presidential candidacy. He planned to outline his proposal to form a national crime council if elected president.

Bush, a gun-control opponent, said in an interview Thursday he empathized with Carl Rowan, the Washington-based syndicated columnist who shot and wounded a backyard intruder.

Rowan, who has written columns favoring stricter gun control, shot the teenager, who had been swimming with a group of friends in Rowan's backyard pool, with a pistol police said was unregistered.

"I kind of empathize with what he was going through when somebody was coming at him," Bush said. Rowan has said he fired the shot after the teen lunged at him.

In a speech to an annual meeting of the U.S. Jaycees in Richmond, Va., Bush reiterated his views on strong penalties for those convicted of drug offenses and said the policy of "zero tolerance" for drugs should be applied to the workplace as well as to cars, planes and boats.

Earlier Thursday, Dukakis said we welcomed having an independent counsel investigate the allegations against Wright and found the issue different from the investigation of Attorney General Edwin Meese III.

"If you're attorney general of this country and you've stumbled as often as he has and made as many mistakes as he has and provided as weak leadership as he has, you ought to leave office," he said.

Both Bush and Dukakis were sent a message from the nation's black mayors that the candidates must address black Americans' concerns or face losing the support of a large number of people.