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'Hostage' in Rose Garden? Carter rethinking strategy

President Carter feels he must make moves that will convince the public he is a capable leader -- else his presidency, as well as his political future, is threatened.

This is Mr. Carter's thinking now, according to sources close to the President, who add that Mr. Carter is reassessing his no-campaign commitment and soon may take to the campaign trail.

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These sources close to the presidency tell the Monitor that the argument of Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D) of West Virginia -- that the President, by staying close to the White House because of the Iran crisis, has himself become a "hostage" of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini -- was the "turning point" in bringing about a Carter campaign reappraisal.

However, these sources say that the President will characterize his movements around the country -- making speeches and appearing at ing at town meetings -- not as political campaigning but as presidential efforts to communicate with the people.

These sources say that while the President will be turning the screws on Iran whenever he can, his moves are likely to be more on the political side.

A major TV address to the nation, in which the President would seek to rally the American people behind him -- on the crisis in Iran, on US relations with the soviets, and in the battle to stabilize the economy -- is also under consideration.

The President is said to look at his unsettled condition in this way:

* He is believed to be quite disturbed by his faltering pace in the primaries. His latest close defeat to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy in the Michigan caucuses (70 delegates for Mr. Carter, 71 for the senator), together with a similar outcome in Pennsylvania, has brought little comfort.

He is not concerned about winning the nomination, but he is worried that Senator Kennedy will end up with so many delegates that the senator, not the President, will be able to control the ideological thrust of the party platform.

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* Beyond his concern over what may happen at the convention -- and of a Carter-Kennedy split that would make it difficult if not impossible for a Carter re-election -- the President is said to believe that continued primary losses to Senator Kennedy (even if close) will underscore Mr. Carter's weakness, not only as a candidate, but as President.

Thus, the President is understood to see the Kennedy threat as undermining his presidency -- hence his interest in raising his voter support by making on-the-scene appeals.

*Mr. Carter appears to be convinced that if he is to deal with his many urgencies, particularly Iran, he must shore up his credibility with American people.

It is in that context that Mr. Carter is re-examining his confinement to the White House. And the expectations from those around him are that he will say that he feels he can -- and must -- break out.

Meanwhile, the President's political advisers are adding to his worries. They are telling him that some coming tests that once looked like easy victories (the Texas and Indiana primaries) may not be so easy after all. One key Carter campaign figure provides this assessment:

"We thought we were way out in front in Texas [May 3] -- but now we don't know. Do Texans rally behind the President -- or are they disgusted with the rescue failure? We don't know. And if Kennedy makes a strong showing in Texas -- well, who knows what he might be able to do in Indiana [May 6] which is, partially, the kind of industrial state where he might do very well."


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