After Iowa and New Hampshire, where Jackson doubled his support from four years earlier, the race moved to the South for what would be the largest single day of primaries ever. As the DLC planners hoped, it did give life to Tennessee Sen. Al Gore, who was running as the most conservative candidate in the field. Bolstered by strong support from white voters, many of whom reported having voted for Ronald Reagan in 1984, Gore carried five states.
But the day was even more of a success for Jackson, whose astronomical levels of black support (96 percent in Alabama and 94 percent in Georgia, for instance, according to NBC News’ black voter data analysis) were amplified by the growing size of the black electorate, itself a product of Jackson-fueled registration drives.
He also won the backing of an estimated 10 percent of white voters, not as much as he'd been hoping for but still a jump from his '84 level. It added up to primary wins in five states and enough delegates to move Jackson into second place nationally, right on the heels of the front-runner, Gov. Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts. The outcome, The Washington Post wrote, "marked the end of Jackson's long march toward full respect and status in the Democratic Party.” (“Jackson Vows a Positive Campaign,” David Maraniss, The Washington Post, March 9, 1988.)
Shortly after Super Tuesday, Jackson scored a landslide victory in Michigan’s caucuses, overtaking Dukakis for the national lead and prompting Democratic leaders to confront the previously unimaginable possibility that Jackson might secure the nomination.
New York's April 19 primary now loomed large, and the campaign there quickly turned ugly, with old racial and ethnic tensions flaring up. In '84, Jackson had referred to New York City as "Hymietown" and hesitated to denounce the Rev. Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam. Before the '88 primary, New York Mayor Ed Koch threw his support behind Gore and declared that Jews "would be crazy" to vote for Jackson. (“Koch, After Cuomo Statement on Draft, to Endorse Gore or Dukakis This Week,” Warren Weaver Jr., The New York Times, April 12, 1988.) For days, Koch, already unpopular with black voters in his city, engaged in vitriolic sniping with Jackson's top supporters.