The jackpot winners of the "Super Tuesday" presidential contests probably will be the two preachers -- former television evangelist Pat Robertson and Jesse L. Jackson.
Neither has scored higher than 15 percent in any poll of the electorate. But the winners on Super Tuesday will be determined by the turnout, not the polls.
Both Robertson and Jackson generate intense loyalty, and their supporters are more likely to participate in the primaries than those of the other candidates.
Until the Iowa caucuses, the news media had largely dismissed the two candidates as outsiders too isolated to be taken seriously. No one ever thought the GOP walls would crumble before Robertson's trumpet. Jackson was regarded as a radical-at-large, a counterculture hero who would be rejected by the moderate majority.
But last year we began reporting that Robertson and Jackson, despite their small national followings, could win most of the presidential primaries and force themselves on their party conventions. We cited some startling arithmetic: that only 19 percent of eligible voters bothered to participate in the 1984 presidential primaries, that the winning candidates got an average 6.8 percent of the eligible vote, and that Walter F. Mondale won the Democratic primary in New York with only 4.7 percent of the registered vote.
We pointed out what this meant: A candidate with a small, dedicated following need turn out only seven or eight of every 100 eligible voters to win an average primary, and, in many states, both Robertson and Jackson have enough irregulars to out-vote the other candidates' regulars.
In Iowa, Robertson "surprised" the experts by attracting enough irregulars to the GOP caucuses to win second place. In New Hampshire, he had no organization and only a limited evangelical base, and he did poorly. But it's the Bible Belt where Robertson's "invisible army" should materialize.
Robertson will probably win the South Carolina primary on March 5. This should give him momentum on the eve of Super Tuesday, March 8, when 20 states will choose convention delegates.
Robertson's fundamentalist followers can be found in both parties. Since party-switching is allowed by most Bible Belt states, many Democrats can be expected to cross over and vote for him.
We also anticipate that Jackson will be able to round up enough black voters, poor white farmers and factory workers to win several southern states. He hails from South Carolina and speaks their language.
In Iowa and New Hampshire, Jackson proved that he can also appeal to white liberals, intellectuals and workers, particularly those on slippery economic ground. He has campaigned in all 14 southern and border states, generating so much free publicity that he hasn't needed to dip deeply into his campaign funds.
Our sources say he is so confident of his staying power that he is planning his biggest campaign push in the last of the state primaries -- California.
If Robertson and Jackson succeed in winning the most delegates, it might look like discrimination should they be rejected at the conventions.