Three Democratic presidential candidates and Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.), who has yet to decide whether she will be a candidate, embraced the Congressional Black Caucus' mostly liberal agenda on education, employment and defense issues yesterday and gibed each other on the similarity of their stands.

Jesse L. Jackson was the crowd favorite, as the more than 300 people at an afternoon presidential candidates' forum here applauded and cheered him repeatedly, chanting "Run Jesse Run" or "Win Jesse Win."

Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis threw his hands in the air after one such chant and said: "Well, if I can't be your first choice, I'd very much like to be your second."

Jackson remained the Democratic front-runner in a Washington Post-ABC News poll completed last week, with 23 percent of those polled saying they would vote for him. Dukakis, his nearest competitor, polled 12 percent with the other candidates bunched below 10 percent.

Jackson, Dukakis, Schroeder and Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) all detoured from a week of appearances and debates in Iowa for the Congressional Black Caucus weekend event. Sens. Paul Simon (D-Ill.), Albert Gore Jr. (D-Tenn.) and former Arizona governor Bruce Babbitt, the other Democratic candidates, did not appear.

One of the few areas of disagreement was why the other three candidates did not appear.

"We had five or six {debates} in Iowa the last few weeks," Jackson said. "Everybody showed up every time. There is a message about those who came {to the caucus event} and those who did not."

Dukakis, who devoted his day yesterday to caucus events, said that he would not criticize his absent opponents because each has received upward of 70 invitations to forums.

But Rep. Gus Savage (D-Ill.) who ran yesterday's forum, also criticized those who did not appear. "To not show up at the largest gathering of the most prominent civic, political, business and religious black leaders in the nation certainly needs to be explained," he said.

Jackson, Dukakis, Gephardt and Schroeder said that they would support caucus positions by increasing money spent on education, decreasing the amount spent on defense, reducing U.S. intervention in Central America and opposing the appointment of Robert H. Bork to the Supreme Court. All said they would support statehood for the District of Columbia.

"It is so important to say ditto to everything," Schroeder said at one point.