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Election outlook: Reagan still leads despite slow start

Ronald Reagan's rocky start has given Jimmy Carter a boost, but independent candidate John Anderson continues to siphon off important support from the President.

This is how democratic politicians contacted by the Monitor sum up the first week of the fall presidential campaign. These politicians who have much to gain by a Carter victory, nonetheless are conceding that the President still lags behind Mr. Reagan. While taking some comfort from Reagan gaffes, they don't feel Mr. Carter has gotten the lift he needs to catch his opponent.

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"Carter had a pretty good way to go -- as long as Anderson remains a factor and continues to take votes away from the President."

So said a Midwest Democratic political chief. And his comments echo what many other Democratic politicians are reluctantly saying.

One administration official whose job depends on Mr. Carter being re-elected made this comment:

"Some reporters are writing that Carter is on the upswing. But that's the Washington press, those who have been traveling with Carter.

"I've just come back from Boston. Democrats there don't care much for Carter. They like Anderson.

"Before that I was in Michigan. Democrats out there -- or a lot of them -- are fed up with Carter. They just don't think he's done a good job in handling the economy.

"And I've been in a number of the norther industrial states in the last week or so. If Carter is coming up, it isn't by very much."

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A presidential adviser puts it this way: "It's been more Reagan coming down than Carter coming up during these first days. But we dont't claim to have the momentum yet, the momentum we need. If Anderson were out of it, we'd be closing in. But with Anderson in, it's tough, tough, tough."

These Democrats remain worried about the economy and what it is doing to the President's prospects. They see some encouraging signs, such as a rise in employment. But they wonder whether the public will again really warm to Carter as long as inflation and interest rates stay high and the recession lingers on.

Says an Eastern politician: "It isn't enough for Reagan to shoot himself in the foot. If we're going to win, Carter must gain the momentum. He picked up steam last week. But he doesn't have the 'big mo' yet."

In line with Monitor findings, a new Associated Press survey of political leaders and campaign officials around the nation has found Reagan leading in 25 states with a total of 212 electoral votes, only 58 votes less than the 270 needed to win.

The survey found Carter favored to win only 90 electoral votes in eight states and the District of Columbia.

The survey respondents did not favor Anderson to win any state -- but he was perceived as a drag on the Carter effort in several states, particularly New York and Wisconsin.

The political leaders surveyed found the race a tossup in 17 "big" states with 236 electoral votes. These states, including New York with 41 electoral votes, were where the election would be won or lost, according to the respondents.

Additionally, Newsweek magazine reporters, talking to local and state politicians and referring to statewide polls, found Reagan ahead in states with 201 electoral votes and Carter ahead in states with only 29 votes.

The Newsweek survey said states with 119 electoral votes were leaning toward Reagan and states with 62 votes were leaning toward Carter.

To compound this bad news for the President as the second week of the campaign began, the Liberal Party in New York State now is almost certain to endorse Anderson instead of Carter. This would ensure that Anderson will be on the New York ballot.

It also adds to the possibility that Anderson will siphon off enough votes from Carter to give Reagan the big bloc of New York electoral votes.

Through it all the great debate over the fall debates continues.

The President is giving no ground on his insistence that the first debate be between Reagan and himself only, with Anderson left Strauss has indicated that Carter will not debate at all if he cannot get a one-on-one arrangement for the first encounter.

On the other side, the Reagan negotiators for the debate seem to be just as firm in their demand to include Anderson in all debates, including the first.

Thus there appears to be a good possibility that only Reagan and Anderson will debate -- or that there will be no debates at all.

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