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The Reagan appeal

Ronald Reagan emerged the biggest winner in the Wisconsin and Kansas primaries. His party drew the largest number of voters. His margins of victory were solid. In Wisconsin, where there was once again a large crossover vote, Mr. Reagan proved he could attract a large share of Democratic and independent votes. His liberal rival, John Anderson, failed to stop the Reagan steamroller as he has hoped, and his only other creditable opponent, George Bush, also remains far behind. It thus looks to be clear sailing ahead for Mr. Reagan to the Republican presidential nomination, and this cannot now but be a dominant political concern for Jimmy Carter.

Not that the President is not buoyed by his own victories in the two Midwestern states. These were important. He very much needed them after his upsets in New York and Connecticut to prevent a Kennedy momentum. He is now able to claim that the New York primary was something of an aberration, less a vote for the senator than a momentary cry of protest against the President primarily for recent diplomatic ineptitudes.

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Yet he cannot feel unqualified satisfaction. In Wisconsin a high 42 percent of the Democratic voters voted against him, indicating a continuing dissatisfaction with his presidency among his own constituency. This, together with the strength which Ronald Reagan has demonstrated he can muster in such traditional working-class Democratic areas as South Milwaukee, suggests the President would have a study battle with the former California governor. It used to be thought Mr. Reagan would be a pushover in a presidential election, but no longer.

The Wisconsin results, moreover, are not conclusive. In Wisconsin there was a large crossover from the Democratic side, and John Anderson took away many of the votes of liberal Democrats and independents. If this had been a closed one-on-one primary, it is impossible to know how much more support might have gone to Mr. Kennedy. Things could take another turn in Pennsylvania, where the senator has been making a much bigger effort and where domestic and foreign events could again produce some surprises. Wisconsin seemed to show that in the heartland of the country the issues of Chappa-quiddick and personal character remain a burden for Mr. Kennedy. But these could prove less a factor in Pennsylvania, especially if Democratic voters, to show their disappointment with Mr. Carter, choose to keep his margins narrow by voting for his opponent.

Mr. Carter, in short, is not free of the challenge from Edward Kennedy, who, even though he may be losing hope of winning the Democratic nomination, is likely to remain in the race to keep up the pressure on the President, strengthen the voice of liberalism within the party, and preserve his influence during the next four years.

It is to Mr. Reagan, however, that many Americans seem to be turning their attention. And, as he comes to be seen more and more as a formidable Republican challenger, the questions about his views ought to become sharper. Mr. Reagan talks, for instance, about drastically cutting taxes, balancing the budget, and increasing defense expenditures. Are these compatible? He talks of restoring America's position in the world and not being pushed around by the Russians. How would he deal with the nuclear threat, arms proliferation, world hunger? Mr. Reagan seems to convey a feeling of security by his relaxed, affable ways and confident outlook. But the presidency is too serious a matter to be satisfied with vague generalities. As Mr. Reagan's candidacy becomes more certain, undecided voters will expect more specifics.


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