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Reagan soars, Mondale campaign can't get off ground

James Shriver, an analyst at the Gallup Organization, was recently on a speechmaking trip to the Midwest. At a meeting of businessmen, he took his own, informal poll of how they were going to vote.

The result: 88 votes for Ronald Reagan; 8 for Walter Mondale.

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''When you get away from the liberal East, the groundswell on the hustings is almost unbelievable,'' says Mr. Shriver. ''Even people who disagree with Reagan on issues like abortion and tuition tax credits are about as enthusiastic for the President as everybody else.''

Only six weeks remain before election day, when close to 100 million American voters will pick the next president. As Shriver's story illustrates, the Democrats and Mr. Mondale are still unable to lasso Reagan's galloping campaign.

''I'm beginning to feel sorry for Mondale,'' says one analyst. A Democratic insider groans: ''It's pretty dismal.''

Experts say there's no easy, one-word explanation of what's happening in this year's campaign. It's a combination of at least four things:

* The economy.

* The fading Ferraro factor.

* Reagan's strong image.

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* Mondale's perceived weaknesses.

The economy, analysts say, is probably the most important element.

More jobs, higher incomes, and less inflation are making Americans feel good about themselves and the country. The economy is so important that it overrides anything else.

Further, the economy seems to be helping Reagan on other issues. Mondale had hoped to raise fears that the President's hawkish policies could get the United States into a Vietnam-type war in Central America during his second term.

But the war issue is fading. Gallup found this month that for the first time in a decade, Democrats lost their lead to Republicans as the party ''better for peace.'' The two parties are now essentially tied.

Added to the booming economy is the fizzling Ferraro factor. At one time, the addition of Geraldine A. Ferraro to the Mondale ticket deeply worried Republican strategists. That's no longer true. Ms. Ferraro was neutralized by her own problems, including clashes over abortion with officials in the Roman Catholic Church.

This has kept Ms. Ferraro on the defensive. So long as her primary efforts involve protecting herself, she can't be much help to Mondale.

Reagan, meanwhile, has done just about everything right since mid-August, analysts say. For a while, just before the Republican convention in Dallas, Reagan seemed temporarily staggered by Mondale's attack on taxes. Mondale charged that Reagan had a ''secret plan'' to raise taxes on working Americans, and that a second Reagan term would be devoted to protecting the President's ''rich friends.''

That got lost, however, in the hoopla over the Olympics. Peter Hart, Mondale's pollster, says the Olympics probably did more than anything else to kill Democrats' momentum after their own July convention.

The Olympics raised Americans' pride in their country - a Reagan campaign theme. And the President closely associated himself with America's winning performance at the Los Angeles games. He came away from the games wrapped in red , white, and blue.

Reagan has also further deflated the war-peace issue with this week's meetings with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei A. Gromyko.

Finally, there are Mondale's own campaign problems. He's getting advice from every side. He's told: ''Be more combative,'' ''appear with small, informal groups to show empathy with working people,'' ''be tougher on Reagan,'' ''emphasize the deficits.''

So far, nothing has worked.

Norman Ornstein, a Democrat and a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, says Mondale must now do several things.

Most important, says Dr. Ornstein: Avoid panic.

He adds that Mondale must pound Reagan on the issues, hope for a break in the news, and prove in the two presidential debates that he's a lot tougher than voters think.

The debates probably aren't enough anymore to win the election for Mondale, Ornstein says. But they could at least tighten the race.

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