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Iran-contra crisis may have peaked. Reagan's ratings seen likely to rise if no link to funds diversion found

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Political fallout from the Iran-contra imbroglio continues to rain on President Reagan and the Republicans, but some analysts say the White House may now have seen the worst. As the crisis passes the two-month mark, this is the damage report as seen from here:

President Reagan took a 16-point spill in his public-approval ratings during the first weeks of the crisis. That is one of the greatest drops ever recorded by a President, a Gallup Organization official says.

The crisis slipped off Page 1 during the holidays, and experts say the next polls should show some improvement in the President's standing. Alex Gage of Market Opinion Research says Christmas usually gives every president a 6- to 10-point boost.

White House influence usually begins to wane in the seventh year of a presidency. The crisis has probably speeded that process, and this could damage the President's programs in Congress.

Vice-President George Bush could be the biggest political loser of the crisis. Mr. Bush's chances in the 1988 presidential race depend heavily on the reflected glory of the Reagan White House, and that has faded.

Senate Republican leader Robert Dole could be the biggest winner. He would be the first to fill the void if Mr. Bush loses strength.

Democrats should benefit, especially if the work of the investigating committees drags out for months. The crisis makes the Democrats look better, by comparison, in the area of competence.

Ironically, some Democratic planners fret that the crisis could actually hurt their party in 1988. Harrison Hickman, a Democratic consultant, puts it this way when discussing 1988:

``The good news is that the Democrats don't have Reagan to contend with anymore. The bad news [about this crisis] is that Reagan is taking Bush with him. I've always thought our best chance was to have Bush as the [Republican] nominee.''

Mr. Hickman calls Senator Dole a greater threat to the Democrats.

``Dole is a guy of substance and performance, and people are beginning to like him a little more personally.''

Political analyst Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institution says it is still too early to get a solid reading on the political damage to the White House. But Mr. Hess says he doubts the President's popularity will sink any lower.


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