The Rev. Jesse Jackson, while making clear that he does not intend to drop out of the Democratic presidential race, on Wednesday delivered what sounded like a rough draft of the eulogy for his 1988 presidential campaign.
In a speech given the day after his fourth straight primary loss to Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, Jackson repeatedly lapsed into the past tense as he claimed victory for what he had already accomplished.
"I sought to bring the people together," Jackson said at one point in an address Wednesday morning to the Ohio Assn. of Broadcasters. "I raised political issues in the campaign. . . ," he said. "We have set the agenda."
Later, at a rally among supporters, Jackson returned to an upbeat, even defiant tone. When he asked aloud, "What does Jesse Jackson want?" he answered himself with the familiar: "I want the nomination of the party. I want to be President."
Bid for Influence
But the morning's mixed message of pride and resignation, strongly reinforced by his campaign manager, Gerald F. Austin, indicated that he regarded what remained of his candidacy as a bid for influence rather than for the Democratic nomination.
More explicitly than ever, Jackson defined victory in unconventional terms, telling the broadcasters: "Obviously, the key to winning was to expand, make room for more people, turn the mainstream into a flowing river."
"We forged a multiracial coalition. . . ," Jackson said a moment later, "building a Democratic Party for the future, salvaging the direction of our party and the soul of our nation."
"If he doesn't win another delegate or another vote," Austin said later, "he's already won."
At the speech and at other events here Wednesday, Jackson appeared remarkably self-assured despite Tuesday's trouncing and the implicit resignation in his message.
Throws Flowers From Stage
He was unusually relaxed and witty at a rally in a high school here, ultimately throwing flowers from the stage while dressed in a letterman's jacket as the choir saluted him with the "Hallelujah Chorus" from Handel's "Messiah."
One aide attributed the good mood to a rare night of good sleep, but another said it reflected the fact that Jackson had finally accepted that the nomination was beyond his grasp.
In his appearances today Jackson portrayed himself as strongly committed to party unity. When asked about the goals of his campaign, he said: "Certainly when the campaign is over, we will determine who the candidate will be, ratifying the candidate, defining our priorities. . . ." Austin, meanwhile, said: "We're satisfied with what we've been able to accomplish."
Asked on Wednesday whether Jackson had finally abandoned his hopes of winning, Austin protested: "It's not just delegates and votes. That's just not the only thing it is."
"Jesse Jackson is needed for the rest of the campaign to get people involved," Austin said. "If he gets them involved in the primary, they're going to stay involved in the general election.
'A Vital Cog'
"This is all about Democrats winning the White House, and he's a vital cog in that wheel to turn it, even if he didn't win New York and Pennsylvania," he said.
The concerted expressions of realism by Jackson and his campaign manager came after a week of campaign turmoil sparked by the outcome of the New York primary.
There Jackson was trounced by Dukakis in a race his campaign had hoped to win, and Tennessee Sen. Albert Gore Jr. was knocked from the race, leaving Jackson to compete head-to-head with Dukakis far earlier than his strategists had wanted.
While Jackson has lobbed more criticism at his rival since New York, his campaign seemed always to mix competition with cooperation, and Wednesday's recasting of the campaign as a moral force for influence added another element to that unusual strategy.
Austin said that in the primaries still ahead, the campaign would seek aggressively to win the delegates it needs "in order to make a mark on the convention one way or another."
But both Austin and Jackson argued that an equally important task is to sustain the hopes of those Jackson supporters whose political identities and expectations had been tied directly to his presidential campaign.
"Keep hope alive," Jackson tells audiences.
"Sometimes the bigger challenge," Austin said, "is to get people involved knowing that the standard-bearer that they wanted to be the nominee is not going to be the nominee."
Asked how that challenge might be met, Austin said: "You work on it, you talk to them. You don't just abandon a campaign. You keep on campaigning with a message."