Call it crossover power. It is a candidate's ability to draw independents and voters from the other party to join voters from his own party and bolster his results. The Illinois primary, if it did anything besides confirming Carter and Reagan as the way-out-in-front- runners, reaffirmed this campaign's growing recognition of crossover power. It is a power that will have to be demonstrated in November, too, since neither party has a majority of voters, and neither a Democrat nor especially a Republican (with no more than a quarter of the voters in his party) can win without crossovers.
What Illinois showed is that John Anderson's crossover power in the East could be carried to the Middle West, though not to the point of overwhelming Ronald Reagan's Republican power. Indeed, Reagan also displayed enough crossover power to get an estimated 30 percent of the independent and Democratic voters who voted in the Republican primary. These voters, in turn, represented more than 40 percent of the Republican turnout. And this is where crossover power should begin to look important to President Carter as the likely Democratic candidate in the fall.
Some say Carter has already written off the Kennedy challenge and is shaping his campaign on the expectation of contending with Reagan in the fall. So he cannot ignore the Reagan crossover power demonstrated in Illinois.
Some say the lagging Kennedy is staying doggedly in the race at least partly to keep Carter from becoming too Republican in the quest for votes. So Carter cannot blithely seek crossover power at the expense of alienating Democrats who might sit on their hands or, horrors, succumb to Reagan's crossover power. Carter will at least have to consider this week's suggestions from the Democratic platform advisory committee that the party seek wage and price controls, as advocated by Kennedy, and pursue a full-employment policy instead of the Carter anti-inflation package with what the committee saw as its increase of unemployment to recession heights.
The Illinois primary came as the expected shift of public attention from foreign policy to domestic economy began to show itself. Carter had taken account of it by announcing he would cut the budget without disclosing most of what he would cut. As the economic concern continues, he will have to face the music on the trimming he specifically proposes.
Nor can Carter ignore that, according to one poll, more than half the voters who supported Kennedy in Illinois mentioned the inflation issue. And Kennedy ran just about neck and neck with the President among people who consider their economic condition worse now than it was a year ago. The economic factor will no doubt continue to loom large in voters' decisions as to whether they should cross over in future primaries and in November.
Where does this leave the current master of the crossover, Anderson? It shouldn't be forgotten that he actually did get a quarter of the noncrossed-over Republicans in Illinois. His fiscal conservatism can reach members of his own party, it appears, as his whole approach seems to reach beyond any party lines. Connecticut and Wisconsin will test how far he can stretch his appeal. And, nothing if not bold, his supporters are actually going to try to persuade hundreds of thousands of non- Republicans to register as Republicans in California in time to challenge Reagan on his own turf in that winner-take-all contest.
Quixotic? Maybe. But who would have thought that crossover power would get even this far beyond tilting at windmills?