CHICAGO -- Standing in the cavernous third floor of an abandoned warehouse that serves as his campaign headquarters, Danny K. Davis declared the resurrection of "the progressive political coalition" that eight years ago turned the politics of this city upside down.

Arrayed around the veteran black politician one day last week were about three dozen liberal political activists, most of them white, from Chicago's lakefront wards. They were a hard-core part of the coalition that twice elected the late Harold Washington as the city's first black mayor. "They are a living example," Davis said of his allies, "that you can bring it back."

That has been the dream of Chicago's black political leaders and their liberal white allies since Washington's sudden death from a heart attack in November 1987 shattered his winning coalition and set off a war to succeed him. But just two weeks before the Democratic mayoral primary here Feb. 26, the dream seems more elusive than ever.

Davis is one of two Democrats seeking to oust Mayor Richard M. Daley in the primary. The other, former mayor Jane M. Byrne, is mired in single digits in the polls and has never been given a chance to succeed in what is largely seen as the continuation of a bitter personal feud with Daley.

Davis, 49, a well-known and respected former Chicago alderman elected last November to the Cook County Board of Commissioners, was regarded from the outset as the main challenger to the incumbent mayor and son of the city's longtime Democratic boss, the late mayor Richard J. Daley.

But instead of challenging Daley, who won a special election in 1989 to complete the last two years of Washington's second term, the late-starting and woefully underfinanced Davis campaign has spotlighted divisions that continue to plague the black political establishment in the nation's third-largest city.

Daley operatives confidently predict that the black vote for him Feb. 26 will be in the double digits, and some others say he could receive as much as 20 percent of the black vote, a significant achievement for a white candidate in the racially polarized politics of this city. In 1989, Daley received less than 5 percent of the black vote in primary and general election contests against black opponents.

Many black business leaders are backing Daley, seeing him as the almost certain winner who will control city contracts for the next four years. So too are more than 70 black clergymen, including the Rev. Clay Evans, who was Jesse L. Jackson's minister here. Jackson, who has moved to Washington, has not taken a position in the mayor's race, but some of his other allies also are supporting Daley.

In apparent frustration last month, Davis suggested that Chicago blacks backing Daley were guilty of "{Uncle} Tomism," which he later defined as "people who will make political decisions looking for short-term solutions, short-term favors. . . . " That, in turn, prompted new criticism of Davis by other blacks, including the Rev. Tyrone Crider, director of Operation PUSH here.

Meanwhile, while Davis claimed to have revived the old Harold Washington coalition between blacks and "lakefront liberal" whites, key elements of that coalition have also switched to Daley or are staying on the sidelines. These include large parts of the Jewish community, leery of Davis's close association with Rep. Gus Savage (D-Ill.), who was a prime mover in creation of the Davis candidacy and has been accused of making anti- semitic statements.

Amid these signs of disarray, Steve Neal, political editor of the Chicago Sun Times, wrote last month that, although Davis vehemently denied it, "more than a few Democratic politicians are openly speculating that he is taking a dive," perhaps in return for future political favor from the Daley forces.

Davis's admirers dismiss such suggestions while acknowledging that Davis, an elegant dresser and loquacious speaker, has not come close to threatening Daley, who held more than a 40-point lead in the last Chicago Tribune poll.

"With all of his good qualities, Danny couldn't organize a card game," said Don Rose, a political consultant and veteran strategist in the political reform movement here. "If I were Daley and I wanted a black running against me, and I might to keep Jane Byrne from getting those votes, Danny is perfect."

Three months ago, having just won election to the county board, running for mayor "was not something I was seeking or thinking about at the moment," Davis said in an interview last week. But in a series of meetings largely organized by Savage, Davis emerged as the "consensus" black challenger to Daley.

According to Rose, a close friend of Savage, the South Side lawmaker recognized that "it would be difficult if not impossible" to defeat Daley but felt that "there must be a continued political presence and it would be more destructive to the movement to abdicate."

"It was important for progressive political development that we run somebody against Richard Daley," Davis said in echoing this view.

Not everyone agreed. Jacky Grimshaw, a former top political aide to Washington who hosts a popular talk show on a black radio station, said a sense of political exhaustion had settled over the black community after the bitter battle to succeed Washington.

"There were so many elections in so short a time," she said. "There was a feeling of let's take a break and get over the hurt feelings. Let Jane Byrne cut this boy {Daley} up."

Rather than representing a real consensus among black leaders here, Grimshaw said, the Davis candidacy is "a Gus Savage brainchild" created by majority vote of 120 people whom Savage called together. "Danny is the choice of 66 people," she said.

On the surface, Davis has united the main factions that broke apart after Washington's death. He is being supported by Eugene Sawyer, appointed to succeed Washington as acting mayor by a white City Council majority but defeated by Daley in the special 1989 Democratic primary to complete Washington's term. Davis also is backed by Alderman Timothy C. Evans, who unsuccessfully challenged Daley in the April 1989 general election as the candidate of the newly created Harold Washington Party.

But that support has not translated into fund-raising success or enthusiasm in a black electorate that Evans said appears to be "resigned to the inevitability of {Daley's} reelection."

Alderman Bobby Rush, a former Black Panther leader now a vice chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party, said that, just as Chicago whites were "traumatized" by Washington's election as mayor in 1983, blacks here have not recovered from the Daley victory of 1989. That marked the first time that a white challenger ousted a black incumbent mayor of any major U.S. city.

"The election of Harold Washington was a process, not a single event," Rush said. "Harold went through a process and positioned himself to be mayor. That's what's lacking this time. . . . Danny was and is not in position to run for mayor of the city of Chicago."

Rush is supporting Davis "because my constituents support him," but like Evans and other young black politicians is looking beyond the primary this month and the April general election to 1995, when blacks could make up a majority of the city's voting-age population.

"To me, 1995 will be a critical point in terms of the empowerment of the African-American community in this city," he said.