CHICAGO--As a drumbeat grows for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton to concede the Democratic presidential nomination to Sen. Barack Obama, the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson has a politically pragmatic reason for urging Democrats to back off and start reconciling: They will need Clinton in the fall.
"We must work very diligently to keep both of them protected by love and care," said Jackson, an Obama supporter whose son Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. is a national co-chair of Obama's campaign.
Jackson, a civil rights leader and two-time presidential candidate, also declined to criticize Clinton for a remark last week to USA Today -- that Obama's support among "hard-working Americans, white Americans is weakening again" and how non-college-educated whites were supporting her. While demographic trends in exit polls are analyzed by race, Clinton's comment was jarring and just set the wrong tone.
"I would like to think that she was being descriptive, using the last appeal she had to justify her nomination," Jackson said when we chatted Sunday.
"I know her as a woman who is decent, worked with a lot of people across the years. I wouldn't want to suggest anything that would damage her reputation because I think she is so necessary for our future. She is very necessary for our future. She is very necessary for Barack's campaign."
While calling Clinton "a woman of immense dignity and pride," Jackson said she should not risk her legacy in the closing weeks of the long campaign. "She has a future beyond this. Hillary Clinton has a future beyond losing this runoff."
"...The irony of this thing is, the reason why this is a sensitive time for her is that the loser in Denver will determine the winner in November," Jackson said, a reference to the Democratic convention and how Obama will need Clinton to rally her voters for him.
How this long Democratic primary season ends is a matter of concern to Democrats. On CBS' "Face the Nation," former candidate John Edwards said Sunday that Clinton "has to be really careful that she's not damaging our prospects" by staying in the contest.
The Obama forces are concerned about how Clinton plays her endgame. "What we don't want is at the end of the process to get into a situation where we impair our chances in the fall," said top Obama strategist David Axelrod on "Fox News Sunday."
Obama, now running as if he already won the nomination, said last week he wants to find a way to "make her feel good about the process and have her on the team moving forward."
Feeling good is a high bar. Don't discount the pain involved in quitting. So what should Clinton do?
"I don't want to be presumptuous," Jackson said. "I'd just say that the math says she should stop. But her mission says she shouldn't. ... I don't know whether she is driving on because of some mystery, you know, hoping against hope that something other than popular votes and delegates will derail Barack."
She is expected to win Tuesday's West Virginia primary, but won't gain enough delegates to prevail over Obama.
"The math says stop," said Jackson. "But people driven by mission sometimes choose not to stop. I just hope that the result of all of this continuous campaigning sustains more interest, more registration, more participation."
Jackson is not calling on Clinton to drop out.
"The choice is hers. But she must run, as Barack, with one eye on competition and one eye on reconciliation."