Political winds in Iowa are changing -- and these new gusts could wreak havoc with the candidacies of Ted Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. Jimmy Carter is on the verge of winning caucuses which may provide him, as they did four years ago, with unstoppable momentum.
And in the Republican race, Ronald Reagan's challengers -- particularly Sen. Howard H. Baker Jr. and former UN Ambassador George Bush -- appear to be closing in on the Californian, perhaps getting close enough in next Monday's caucusing to make it a two-or three-way race.
The Carter upsurge, largely on the strength of his handling of the crises in Iran and Afghanistan, is not only indicated in national polls put also in the outlook for coming political tests with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.
The word coming out of New Hampshire now is that the President might beat the Massachusetts Senator in that important first primary in February. Even more surprising, the word is that if Mr. Carter wins in both in Iowa and New Hampshire he might make an impressive showing -- although still losing -- against Senator Kennedy in Massachusetts.
In summary: The Carter campaign now is prospering. Only some early mistake on his part -- and it would have to be perceived by the public as a particularly bad blunder -- seems likely to turn the tide against the President in his bid to be renominated.
However, observers here are adding this caveat:
Should grain prices start to plunge again -- after stabilizing late last week -- many Iowa farmers might switch to Senator Kennedy, or at least decide not to support Mr. Carter.
Also, prognosticators underscore that a particularly effective Kennedy organizational effort in getting supporters out to the caucuses might make the contest close.
But a new Iowa Poll, conducted by the Des Moines Register and Tribune, shows Mr. Carter to be the choice of 57 percent of Iowa Democrats, compared with only 25 ercent for Mr. Kennedy, and 4 percent undecided. In December, this poll showed President Carter tied with Senator Kennedy at 40 percent, with 9 percent for Governor Brown. And earlier than that, the Senator had enjoyed about a 2 -to-1 advantage over Mr. Carter.
the new poll also shows that Iowa farmers by and large support the Carter embargo of grain shipments to the Soviets.
On the Republican side, the story is this:
Mr. Reagan's nonappearance in the nationally televised debate here has caused many of his supporters to look elsewhere. A new Iowa Poll shows that 58 percent of Iowa Republicans were displeased by Mr. Reagan's failure to debate.
Thus, Mr. Reagan now seems to be the choice of only 26 percent of Republicans , whereas in December he held the support of 50 percent of Republicans surveyed here.
Senator Baker in the new poll is at 18 percent, up from 11, and Mr. Bush is up to 17 percent, from 14 percent.
But John B. Connally dropped from 13 percent to 10 percent.
Sen. Robert Dole is up from 3 percent to 6 percent; Rep. Philip M. Crane up from less than 1 percent to 6 percent; and Rep. John B. Anderson, up from less than 1 percent to a full percentage point.
Mr. Reagan, in response to his slide, is making a campaign blitz of the state just before the caucus. Senator Kennedy, too, keeps slugging it out, campaigning hard here. But there seems little spring in his step; he seems to be expecting defeat.
Meanwhile, the President continues to ride high among Iowa Democrats without even showing up here to campaign.
Most Iowans, polls show, agree with Mr. Carter's decision to stay close to Washington during the Crises and not debate. And the President keeps heavily involved here -- through surrogates like Vice-President WalterMondale and First Lady Rosalynn Carter -- and through scores of phone calls he is making to Iowans.