Jackson refused to endorse Wilder and remained neutral. In the press, Wilder's campaign was regarded as a test of Jackson's clout. If Wilder, running without Jacksons blessing and on a markedly different message, attracted the same levels of black support as Jackson, what would that say?
Preliminary polling from Mason-Dixon in Maryland and South Carolina, two states with significant black populations, put Wilder in first, powered by strong black support. Tensions surfaced, however, with Wilder accusing Jackson of seeking to undermine him. "He's asked people not to support me," he said. Jackson shot back: "I don't know what prompted this outburst. I don't want to be used as a scapegoat for what's happening in his campaign.” (“Wilder Accuses Jesse Jackson of Working Against Campaign,” John F. Harris and Donald P. Baker, The Washington Post, Dec. 24, 1991.)
That was the other problem for Wilder. While he was showing strength with black voters, the breakthroughs elsewhere weren't materializing. He'd stumbled into several controversies, money was scarce and polls back home showed voters angry that their governor — limited by law to a single four-year term — was spending so much of his tenure outside of the state. "Wilder for Resident" signs were reported around Virginia. In early January, a month before the New Hampshire primary, Wilder withdrew from the race.
The remaining field of five were all white, with Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas emerging as the national front-runner. His candidacy was imperiled by a series of scandals, but he steadied it with a second-place finish in New Hampshire, setting up a contest in the South between Clinton and former Massachusetts Sen. Paul Tsongas.
Black voters were poised to play a key role, and Clinton, who had extensive experience courting black communities in Arkansas and was far outpacing the field in endorsements from black leaders, had the inside track. It also helped Clinton that Tsongas was running as a pro-business fiscal conservative, promising to be "the best friend Wall Street ever had," making it easy for Clinton to attack him on what had traditionally been core Democratic issues.
In the March 10 Super Tuesday primaries, Clinton routed Tsongas across the South, carrying around 80 percent of the black vote, according to NBC News’ black voter data analysis, and coupling it with deep support from working-class white voters (many of whom had abandoned the party in the '80s to vote for Reagan and Bush). The one-two punch gave Clinton an enormous lead in the delegate race, all but sealing the nomination.
The Clinton coalition, a New York Times editorial declared, represented "the first time since Robert Kennedy's Indiana primary campaign in 1968, that it is politically possible to bring poor blacks and blue-collar white voters together. It is finally possible for Americans to transcend racial division and look instead to mutual interest.” (“Bill Clinton in Black and White," editorial, The New York Times, March 11, 1992.)
The Democratic race finished with a momentous coda. When Clinton officially wrapped up the nomination, his general election prospects seemed bleak, and Jackson, who'd clashed with him over the years, saw a chance to exert influence.