ARNETT, W.Va. (AP) _ Jesse Jackson spent the night at the home of an unemployed coal miner, then declared at a rally today that his message of economic equality is crossing racial lines in the nation's depressed areas.

Democratic rival Michael Dukakis and Republican George Bush took a break from the rigors of the presidential race by tending to business at home today, one day before West Virginia, along with Nebraska, has its primary.

Jackson, who spent Sunday night at the home of Junior and Becky Cook, said that in the poorer sections of West Virginia his message is well-received - even in a town such as all-white Arnett.

''They have their race, but they don't jobs,'' Jackson said. ''They have their race, but they don't have health insurance. They have their race, but they don't have hot and cold running water.

''Their race does not address those needs.''

The town of Arnett has only 300 residents, but more than 500 people showed up to greet Jackson when he arrived at the Cook home Sunday night.

''The overwhelming number ... were very favorable and very supportive,'' Jackson said, though Becky Cook said some ''made some smurky remarks.''

Jackson said of the detractors, ''We have to displace people's fears with security and give them assurances they've never had before.''

On Sunday, speaking at Tri-State Airport near Huntington and later at a rally in Beckley, Jackson criticized both Bush and President Reagan, asking, ''What is Reaganomics but reverse Robin Hood? What is Reaganomics but union-busting?''

Jackson also reacted to reports that Bush was briefed three years ago about a Panamanian drug connection. The Democratic candidate said, ''The reason Mr. Bush has not led the charge to fight drugs is because he knew of the administration's dealings with the drug dealers.''

He called Bush's alleged knowledge of contacts between Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega and drug dealers ''intolerable.''

Meanwhile, however, in Honduras, the former U.S. ambassador to Panama, Everett Ellis Briggs, denied telling Bush as early as 1985 that Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega may have been involved in drug trafficking.

The New York Times reported in its Sunday editions that Briggs had sent cables to the State Department about allegations of Noriega's drug dealings, and that Briggs had told Bush the substance of those cables on Dec. 16, 1985.

Dukakis, the Democratic front-runner, and Bush, who has the GOP nomination locked up, were taking today off from campaigning, with Dukakis back home in Massachusetts and Bush in Washington.

In Beckley, an obviously weary Jackson occasionally stumbled over his words. Even so, he managed repeatedly to bring the crowd to its feet - despite a two-hour wait for the candidate.

A town heavily dependent on the coal industry, Beckley is the site of some of West Virginia's worst economic conditions, and Jackson referred to that situation in attacking Reaganomics.

''Profits are up, wages are down. Plants are closed, mines are closed - and workers are abandoned,'' Jackson said.

He attacked ''absentee coal mine companies,'' which he said ''drain the coal and drain the coal miner, strip the soil and strip the people, then leave you abandoned.''

He advocated a Pan-American Energy Alliance to coordinate policies for oil from Canada, the United States and Central America, coal from Appalachia, and hydro and solar power.

Jackson ended his Beckley speech by citing President Franklin Roosevelt, who he noted used a wheelchair. Jackson then climbed through the crowd to greet a disabled woman, Jan Lilly of Huntington, who had listened to his speech while sitting in a wheelchair.