Former vice president Walter F. Mondale today won the presidential endorsement of the black wing of the Alabama Democratic party but, in recognition of its sharp divisions, the Alabama Democratic Conference also recommended civil rights activist Jesse L. Jackson for vice president.
It was the first head-to-head test in the black community between Mondale and Jackson and is likely to give Mondale a boost in his bid for black support in Alabama's March 13 primary. But because Mondale had long expected to receive the endorsement, the strength of Jackson's support shows that the competition for black votes is not over.
The compromise ticket, recommended by the ADC executive committee and approved after an angry debate of convention delegates, was hailed as an outright victory by the Mondale forces, who had lobbied heavily for the group's support.
"We're pleased," said George Dalley, Mondale's deputy campaign manager. "We came here to contest for the endorsement of the ADC for president. That's what we got."
Arnold Pinckney, Jackson's campaign manager, called the decision "totally unaceptable to us" but said he was not disappointed. "We will take our campaign to the people in Alabama."
The vote for the compromise was 116 to 38. The outcome was the result of several days of behind-the-scenes maneuvering by the leadership of the ADC, mostly Mondale supporters who saw that Jackson's strength was growing.
The compromise was offered by Birmingham Mayor Richard Arrington, who is expected to endorse Mondale personally soon. It was engineered by ADC Director Joe Reed.
The outcome was clear tonight when Jackson's leading supporter in the state, Tuskegee Mayor Johnny Ford, told ADC delegates to back the idea of a Jackson vice presidential nomination. "The votes were not there in the executive committee," he said, predicting that Jackson still can win the Alabama primary.
But other Jackson supporters refused to concede. "How long do we lock ourselves out of the top office?" asked state Sen. Michael Figures of Mobile. "Our responsibility is beyond what practical politics suggests."
The endorsement was the culmination of an emotional day of speechmaking by the candidates and agonizing by the ADC.
All three candidates seeking the endorsement, Mondale, Jackson and Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.), addressed a luncheon that was the first joint meeting of the ADC and the executive committee of the Alabama Democratic Party. It was here that Jackson delivered a rhetorical blow.
With a ballroom lined with his supporters, Jackson called on the ADC to back his candidacy by invoking their long and joint struggle for civil rights and racial justice.
"Some of you I didn't call last week," he said, alluding to the calls from Mondale's staff to members of the ADC executive committee, "because I couldn't get the list. But I'll tell you this thing. I didn't start trying to call you last week. I started calling you in 1965 . . . . I never refused you when you called me; now my time has come."
As the audience talked back to Jackson, urging him on, he roared, "If you're looking for somebody who will fight for civil rights, here am I. Send me. If you want someone who will feed the hungry, here am I, send me. If you want someone who will choose the human race over the nuclear race, here am I, send me."
And as the crowd prepared to rise with the chant of "Run, Jesse, run," Jackson closed his speech by telling them, "I've paid my dues. I've earned your vote. I am your choice."
But Mondale was unwilling to concede that Jackson's ties to the ADC were stronger than his own. "I know you, and you know me," he said. "We have worked together during one of the most glorious generations in our nation's history."
Mondale then ticked off his work on behalf of the civil rights movement, reminding ADC members that he had fought to save the jobs of black school teachers and administrators when schools became integrated. He reminded them that during the Carter administration two black federal judges were appointed in Alabama.
Mondale urged the black leaders to keep their eye on their goal, defeating Reagan.
Mondale's appeal, which ended with him asking "for your power to help me win the election, and together we shall overcome," did not appear to move the audience as Jackson's did.
Hollings called Mondale a "big spender, weak on defense," and said the public believes that if Jackson "gets his hands on" the federal budget, the deficit will double.
Hollings said, "My good friend vice president Mondale is a good lap dog. He'll give 'em anything they want. He'll lick every hand. And he's lovable. Rev. Jackson, he is the watch dog. We need him out there howling. He's the best. I heard him a little while ago. But I'm the old yard dog. I can keep old Reagan out of the White House."