Snubbed by Democratic presidential nominee Bill Clinton, the Rev. Jesse Jackson embarked Saturday on a brief political tour of Mississippi--still unsure about his role in the 1992 campaign and maintaining a carefully measured distance from his party's standard-bearer.
Jackson, the civil rights leader whose 1984 and 1988 presidential campaigns energized black voters, said for now he will concentrate on helping local political candidates and registering new voters.
The two-day tour that he began in the city of Jackson was keyed to a round of state primary elections here Aug. 4. With reapportionment having dramatically redrawn the boundaries for several offices, the elections could pave the way for a doubling of the number of black lawmakers in Mississippi.
As he made his rounds during the day, Jackson said he was going to continue his work with the Rainbow Coalition, the organization he founded in 1983 to help register voters. The coalition, along with local Democratic officeholders, financed his seven-city tour of Mississippi.
But the question of his cool relationship with Clinton followed Jackson about everywhere he went.
Asked as he left Chicago for Mississippi about his level of enthusiasm for Clinton, Jackson replied: "The burden of exciting the voters is with the (Democratic) ticket."
Asked when he arrived in Mississippi whether he would actively campaign for Clinton and his running mate, Tennessee Sen. Al Gore, Jackson said, "I support the Clinton-Gore ticket, but we are here on this particular mission for the Aug. 4 elections."
He added: "I hope people will see the wisdom in the alternative that Clinton-Gore represent in contrast to the failed promises of (President) Bush and (Vice President Dan) Quayle."
For Jackson, that represented a less-than-wholehearted endorsement. It echoed his initial announcement of support for Clinton on his CNN talk show two weeks ago, when he listed a variety of issues on which he differed with the Arkansas governor before saying he planned to vote for him.
Jackson also said Saturday that he has not been contacted by Clinton since the Democratic convention ended more than a week ago, but he declined to show concern about that.
"I am not sitting around waiting for a work assignment," he said.
But in a clear move to demonstrate his potential importance, Jackson distributed copies of a study showing how many more black voters he drew to the polls in the 1988 presidential primaries than Clinton attracted this year.
The study of voting in 14 selected states--ranging from California, New York and Illinois to the states of the Deep South--showed that Jackson polled more than twice as many black votes as Clinton.
Jackson said there are 21 million blacks eligible to vote in the nation, but only about 13 million of them are registered.
In an appearance at Jackson State University, he asked anyone who was 18 years of age or older and was not registered to stand up.
"In the name of Medgar Evers, come down here," Jackson said, invoking the name of the civil rights leader who was slain in Mississippi during the integration battles of the early 1960s. Jackson told the unregistered voters that "for the right to vote, we marched much, we bled profusely, we died young."
He then urged his listeners to both register and vote because, he said, "You have the power to make a new South."
Jackson moved around the campus with voter registration officials in tow. They reported that by the end of his appearance they had registered 40 people.