LOS ANGELES -- As the Democrats premiere their presidential campaign this weekend, a star from the past, the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, is threatening to upstage the party's new faces of 1992.
Mr. Jackson, who alternately intrigues and vexes fellow Democrats, became a last-minute addition to a party-sponsored candidate forum in Los Angeles today when he announced that he was considering a third try for the nomination next year.
A total of seven Democratic contenders are scheduled to address the Democratic National Committee in what DNC chairman Ronald H. Brown describes as the real beginning of the '92 race.
Mr. Brown, a one-time Jackson campaign aide, said speculation about possible political damage to the party from a third Jackson candidacy had been "blown way out of proportion."
But because virtually all the Democratic hopefuls, except Mr. Jackson, are unknowns in the eyes of the general public, party leaders are eager for them to start gaining wider attention, especially in California, which is considered a state the Democrats must win if they are to have any chance of defeating President Bush next year.
Mr. Jackson surprised many Democrats when he disclosed Monday that he was giving "most serious consideration" to running again next year and was putting off plans to host a Cable News Network talk show until he made a decision.
Privately, many leading Democrats say they still don't expect Mr.Jackson to run.
Some party officials said Mr. Jackson's public indecision was simply a tactic to pressure other Democratic politicians into helping him raise money to retire his 1988 campaign debt.
As of June 30, Mr. Jackson's 1988 campaign committee reported a debt of just over $112,000 and cash-on-hand of about $5,000, according to the Federal Election Commission. However, an FEC audit of some $8 million in public money spent by the '88 Jackson campaign is not finished, according to Scott Moxley, an FEC spokesman.
The FEC may require presidential campaigns to repay the Treasury for any public money not spent in accordance with federal election law. Mr. Jackson, said to be currently negotiating a settlement with the FEC, would be unlikely to receive 1992 matching funds until any repayment for 1988 is made, Mr. Moxley said.
Mr. Jackson's announcement that he might run again came only days after Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, the nation's first elected black governor, entered the presidential race with a strong appeal for black support.
Several people who have been close to Mr. Jackson in the past speculated that his decision to consider a '92 race may have been spurred in part by a bitter rivalry with Mr. Wilder.
Mr. Jackson is to be the final speaker to appear before the DNC, all of whose 413 members are automatic delegates to next summer's presidential nominating convention in New York City.
Other '92 hopefuls scheduled to appear include Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, former California Gov. Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown, Representative Dave McCurdy of Oklahoma, former Massachusetts Sen. Paul Tsongas and Larry Agran, a former mayor of Irvine, Calif.