The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson is recasting the role of his possible presidential candidacy in 1984, saying it could be more effective as a way of spearheading election of blacks to Congress and state and local offices than of brokering black influence at the Democratic National Convention.
The new emphasis comes in the face of continued opposition to his candidacy from prominent black politicians and civil rights leaders, which persisted through numerous meetings here last week at the 13th annual Congressional Black Caucus legislative weekend, premier yearly gathering of black leadership.
It also comes as Jackson has reached a critical deadline for deciding whether to run. Strong grass-roots financial and political support is apparent, but vital high-level backing is uncertain in both areas. The extent of his political organization is unknown. And, some say, Jackson may lose face if he decides not to run.
"Jesse is a captive of history. The issue of a black presidential candidate has gotten way out there," Rep. Ronald V. Dellums (D-Calif.) said. "If he doesn't go, I don't know who will be able to go. If he chooses not to go, I think in certain quarters he will have a credibility problem."
"No money has been raised for his campaign that I know of, and it will not be raised until he decides he is a candidate," said Jackson supporter Percy Sutton, a New York communications executive and former Manhattan borough president.
"Only if Jesse decides can you raise anything," Sutton said, "and only until he decides can you get any idea of how much money you can raise. That's one of the real problems."
Rep. Louis Stokes (D-Ohio) said, "I think it is important, if Jesse is going to be the candidate, that we try to get a consensus for him around that candidacy. That's the kind of strategy I could support."
"Otherwise," Stokes said, "I'll do as I always do. I'll run as the presidential candidate in my district."
For months, Jackson, 41, has been the chief advocate and most likely beneficiary of a black presidential candidacy. The civil rights leader has lambasted the Reagan administration as uncaring, criticized the Democratic Party as unappreciative of its most loyal voters and cited a serious black bid for the White House in 1984 as the most effective way of addressing black concerns.
At the same time, he has crisscrossed the country with a massive appeal for increased voter registration and political participation, capitalizing on recent, well-publicized black electoral victories and driving black political enthusiasm to a new high.
Until recently, the possible black presidential bid was debated primarily as a way to spotlight infrequently discussed black issues, increase black voting strength nationwide and win delegates in selected state primaries to use as leverage at the nominating convention in San Francisco next July.
But Jackson's proposal has been plagued by concern among some critics that it would be a self-promotion campaign for a maverick civil rights leader who has never held public office. Moreover, many black politicians at all levels are reluctant to relinquish their own brokerage power.
Opponents also have complained that a black presidential candidate cannot win and that even a symbolic candidacy might force the Democratic platform too far to the left, hopelessly split blacks and Democrats and ultimately help reelect President Reagan, if he runs again.
Consequently, relatively few black politicians have jumped on the Jackson bandwagon publicly.
Now, Jackson is appealing on grounds of what he calls "professional political self-interest" of increased black power at the local level.
"The more we talk, the more we convince people that the issue is just not the White House," he said in an interview yesterday. "People really buy in at the level of supervisors and school board members and county board seats. Many politicians see the new enthusiasm over a black presidential candidate as a way of winning their races."
In the interview, Jackson acknowledged that he could consider a presidential bid successful even if he fared poorly in some primaries.
"Victory here is not the leader getting across the finish line first," he said. "Victory is . . . how many people you carry with you, not how quickly you get there. If this will stimulate a new generation of activists among women and blacks, that is part of the mission."
"If you put 3 or 4 million [additional] black voters on the books," he said, "Reagan would start moving toward the center and the Democrats would have to start moving toward the left . . . ."
The thrust of the new emphasis, said Arthur O. Eves of Buffalo, deputy speaker of the New York state Assembly and a Jackson supporter, is that "Jesse doesn't take anything from anybody. He adds to the number of blacks participating."
Eves said a Jackson candidacy would lead to sufficient added voter registration to elect two more black members of Congress, three state senators and five assemblymen in New York City and lay the groundwork for a strong black mayoral bid there in 1985.
While continuing to appeal mostly for black votes, Jackson also has expanded his standard stump speeches with overtures to other elements of the so-called "rainbow coalition" that he claims is most interested in his candidacy--nuclear weapons opponents, women and labor groups.
Speaking at the Congressional Black Caucus legislative weekend, he spoke of the administration's nuclear-weapons deployment policies as being "willing to make Europe the barbecue pit and make the people in Europe the first on the agenda to be barbecued."
"We must give the impression that we will go out of our way to save the world from nuclear destruction," Jackson said.
In an effort to link black concerns with those of women and organized labor, he said at a candidate forum Saturday that increased registration of southern blacks could set off a chain reaction resulting in ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, improved day care and fewer right-to-work, anti-union laws.
"That's how the rainbow coalition becomes functional," he said.
Jackson's 35-minute appearance at the forum underscored his ability to excite black audiences. But at other weekend sessions, his supporters encountered strong opposition to his potential candidacy.
The 20-member Black Leadership Forum and the 150-member Black Leadership Roundtable, both umbrella groups of black leaders, discussed a Jackson candidacy but took no stance.
Sources who attended a forum meeting that lasted several hours said principal opposition came from NAACP Executive Director Benjamin L. Hooks and Coretta Scott King, widow of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Jackson supporters told the forum, the sources said, that those who could not support a Jackson candidacy publicly should at least not attack it, as Hooks has done consistently.
Later, about 30 representatives of the Roundtable group endorsed a voluminous people's platform drawn as the embodiment of the concerns of blacks and the poor in the 1984 election.
All of the presidential candidates will be asked to respond to those concerns and will be rated on their responses, said Del. Walter E. Fauntroy (D-D.C), coordinator of the group. A ranking of the candidates based on the responses will be issued in March, he said.
Jackson is expected today to ask the board of Operation PUSH (People United to Save Humanity) for a temporary leave of absence as national president of the Chicago-based civil rights and economic development organization to devote full time to making a final decision.