TIME Exclusive: Jackson Courts Newt

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During the State of the Union speech next week, television viewers will see a familiar Capitol Hill tableau: a sober-faced Newt Gingrich sitting behind President Clinton. But up in the balcony, a more surprising group will be on view, where Jesse Jackson will join Gingrich's wife Marianne, country star Travis Tritt and General John Shalikashvili. Newt invited his ideological opposite to sit in the Gingrich family box in the Speaker's gallery last week. The unlikely soul-mates have been communing since Gingrich's opening day speech to the House, where the Speaker addressed the need for educational equality, ways to combat drug use and help for the District of Columbia, all urban issues dear to Jesse’s heart. Subsequently, the Reverend invited Gingrich onto his talk show "Both Sides." The two have spoken a few times since by telephone. Jackson’s unorthodox seating plan may be a sign of his own triangulation strategy: he is said to be very unhappy with the White House and is weighing a third run for the White House in 2000. Says one longtime friend and campaign adviser: "I've never seen him so serious so soon about running." But the father's seating arrangement is not sitting well with the son. Says Jesse Jr., the Chicago congressman: "Racial justice will require more than a seat."