One effect of the presidential candidacy of the Rev. Jesse Jackson is to broaden the already diverse Democratic Party by increasing the interest and registration of blacks and other minorities. Ironically, broadening was one purpose of the Democrats' 1982 rules reform, which is to govern the party's convention next year.
But other elements of last year's reform are more troubling to Mr. Jackson. These include winner-take-all provisions of seven important primaries; requirements in some states with proportional representation primaries that candidates gain 15 percent or 20 percent of the total vote to have their delegates counted; and giving party leaders and elected politicians some 14 percent of the voting delegate seats at the convention.
The net effect of these rules changes, he holds, is to strengthen the position of any front-running candidate with support from top party leaders. That now is Walter Mondale. As a result, Jackson charges, because of these rules it will be extremely difficult from him or any other candidate not among the early leaders to be nominated.
Mr. Jackson has a point: His charges should be fully aired. Democratic national chairman Charles T. Manatthas promised him an appeal to the Democrats' executive committee next month. However, it is unlikely that the rules will be significantly altered.
One reason is that rules changes have been specialties of the Democrats for years as candidates jockeyed for the most advantageous position in the next convention. It is to the advantage of those with the backing of party leaders, like former Vice-President Mondale today, to dim dramatically the prospect that a little-known candidate could win enough primaries to gain the nomination. But this approach risks disenchanting Democratic voters, and thus decreasing their participation in the November elections, by virtually locking up the nomination after the early primaries.
Conversely, it is to the advantage of a candidate in the back of the pack like Mr. Jackson to assert that the party is not giving him a fair chance to win. It gives him an issue that sets him politically apart from other candidates. But if the protest is carried on too long, and Mr. Jackson threatens to carry it to the convention in July, the party's ultimate nominee may be harmed by the perception that his nomination was engineered by a small group of the party's elite.
This is not an easy dilemma for the Democrats. The bitter convention floor fight in 1980 between Jimmy Carter and Edward Kennedy over a similar rules issue hurt the Democrats in the fall, Carter later argued.