His must be one of the shortest political campaigns in D.C. history. Jesse L. Jackson put up his posters less than two weeks before the District's primary elections, and waited until after Labor Day to begin in earnest a round of rush-hour Metro stops to greet voters around town.
A household name in a city that has been his adopted home for a year, Jackson, 48, is widely regarded by fellow Democrats as the odds-on favorite to win the party's nomination to one of two new shadow lobbying seats to the U.S. Senate.
Although four other Democrats are also running in the primary, Jackson has enjoyed most of the attention in the race, which he entered in July after considering and then rejecting a campaign for mayor. He said yesterday he is taking the election as seriously as he is the nonvoting, unsalaried shadow position that was created by the D.C. Council to lobby Congress for statehood.
"This Tuesday is a big vote for us," Jackson told several hundred U.S. government workers during a rally to protest the possible furlough of federal employees. "Please, don't take this election for granted."
Jackson is not, he said. He hit the Metro station in Brookland at 7 a.m. yesterday, followed by the Metro Center stop at 8 a.m. and the Eastern Market station in the evening. In between were events unrelated to the campaign: a meeting with Iraq's ambassador to the United States and planning for his syndicated television show.
In an interview, Jackson said he has waged a variety of campaigns in the last several months as he spoke to hundreds of students at public schools around the District, pressed the council to schedule the shadow elections, registered new voters by the thousands and championed D.C. statehood, the cause that Jackson has adopted as his own.
"It would not be fair to say it's an instant process," Jackson said of the final spurt of campaigning this week.
Jackson, who shifted his political base from Chicago to Washington last year, won an enthusiastic reception with an emotionally powerful call for full voting representation in Congress. For 19 years, Walter E. Fauntroy has served as the District's lone delegate to Congress; Fauntroy, now running for mayor, had voting rights in committee but none on the floor of the House.
"We've almost become insult-proof," Jackson said yesterday. "Our dignity level has been crushed." He said not having full voting rights was "unjust. It's unfair. It's undemocratic. Our dignity is at stake. We've got to fight back."
Jackson said yesterday that if he wins the election in November, he expects to be treated as an equal by the 100 members of the Senate, though it is far from certain whether the Senate's Democratic leadership will accord him floor privileges.
"Of course, I would enter as a peer," he said. "I would have been elected by a jurisdiction larger than those represented by 10 senators."
Alvin Thornton, a Howard University political scientist, said yesterday the measure of Jackson's influence will depend in large measure on the "access he will be able to extract from the leadership."
"You can't just be in the community," Thornton said. "You have to have periodic access to the institution itself."
Thornton also said some tension could arise between the ostensible goal of the shadow seat -- lobbying for statehood -- and Jackson's penchant for national and international issues, such as his efforts last weekend to arrange for the release of Americans held by Iraq.
Jackson's identification with the more liberal elements of the national Democratic Party -- a strain that has long been strong in District government -- could also pose problems for the civil rights leader in his own party and with Republicans if he maintains a high profile on Capitol Hill, Thornton said.
Jackson said the "struggle for full recognition" for the District will be difficult, but a cause to which he is ready to dedicate himself. Noting that Washingtonians are serving in the armed forces sent to the Persian Gulf, Jackson said, "Our numbers, our blood and our taxes qualify us for representation."