By many accounts, the crusading fervor of Jesse Jackson's 1984 presidential campaign is absent this year. As a result, his hold on his Deep South base appears to be softer than before - but it may also be broader. Indeed, Mr. Jackson has the potential to sweep the five states of the Deep South, according to analysts in each state.
Four of the Deep South states - Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia - hold Democratic primaries March 8. South Carolina holds Democratic caucuses March 12.
What most sets the Deep South apart politically is its black population. About 20 percent of black Americans of voting age live in the five Deep South states, where blacks make up a larger share of the electorate than anywhere else in the country.
In 1984, Mr. Jackson won pluralities in Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina during the primary season.
Many observers say the black minister can potentially do even better in the Deep South this year.
For one thing, his Democratic competition is heavily divided. And so far, none of the other candidates - unlike Walter Mondale in 1984 - are making a serious bid for black votes in the South.
``I think they are a making a mistake,'' says Tyrone Brooks, Georgia state representative and state chairman of Jackson's Rainbow Coalition in 1984. ``Gephardt, Dukakis, and even Gore could have made significant inroads with the black vote.''
A Roper poll in January showed Jackson with just 58 percent of black support, down from about two-thirds in October. And many blacks in Atlanta show a readiness to support other candidates, but say they know little about them.
While Jackson may be meeting readier acceptance than before among older blacks and those with stronger ties to institutions, his support is softened by doubts about his ability to win the nomination.
Thus, says Mr. Brooks, the influential Alabama Democratic Conference endorsed Jackson but also selected Mr. Gore as a second choice.
Birmingham Mayor Richard Arrington, who endorsed Mr. Mondale in 1984, is endorsing Mr. Jackson this time around, but he also proposed - unsuccessfully - that his Alabama New South Coalition pick a second choice, as well.
On the other hand, the very lack of a crusade atmosphere surrounding Jackson's bid may be helping him to win white votes, notes Angelo Fuster, a member of Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young's administration.
Southern pollsters, however, see no deep inroads by Jackson among Deep South whites. Atlanta pollster Claibourne Darden pegs Jackson's support among Southern whites at about 10 percent - high for a statewide black candidate, he says, but typical for black candidates in urban areas.
Jackson is getting some disgruntled white voters who want to send an anti-establishment message - ``the drop dead vote'' - and ``limousine liberals'' in the cities, Mr. Darden says.
New Orleans pollster Joe Walker sees Jackson winning the 5-to-12 percent of the white vote in Louisiana that black candidates typically win there.
Jackson's strongest state is likely to be Mississippi. Political strategists there estimate the black share of the Democratic primary vote between 42 and 56 percent.
In Georgia, the Democratic primary vote is typically 25 to 30 percent black, but it remains ``a big mystery'' this year, says Maren Hesla, political director of the Georgia Democratic Party.
Republican primary turnout could run as high as the Democratic vote, Ms. Hesla says. This would leave a much higher share of blacks in the Democratic primary - and further help Jackson.