Can Carter, Reagan 'heal' the wounds?
With their leads now apparently "safe," both Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan are turning to healing rifts, and bringing their respective parties behind them.
Administration sources involved in shaping political strategy have told the Monitor that the President "must" have Edward M. Kennedy "out campaigning for him in the fall" and that Mr. Carter is making every effort now to bring about "at least a correct relationship" with the Massachusetts senator.
Also, one White House adviser said he talked to the Senator the other day and that they had had "a very friendly" discussion.
Says this source: "Kennedy's a pro. Sure, he may be angry at the President. And vice-versa.
"But he knows that if he splits the party and doesn't support Carter, he may be blamed by many Democrats if Carter loses the election in the fall -- Democrats who would never forgive Kennedy and make it impossible for him to get the nomination in 1984.
"So I think Kennedy will come around. Maybe some of his people, those working close to him, won't. They may vote for Reagan. But Kennedy will come -- I'm sure of that."
In the Kennedy camp it is still difficult to find this willingness to bury the hatchet. Kennedy aides, at this point, say they personally dislike Mr. Carter very much.
But one key Democrat close to Senator Kennedy says: "Kennedy, in the end, must give support to Carter or he will hurt himself -- in Congress as well as in any kind of political future he has in mind."
The healing task facing Republican Reagan seems less formidable in comparison with that on the Democratic side.
Yet Mr. Reagan and his people are applying pressure, wherever possible, to persuade challenger George Bush that he should give up his quest in the interest of getting all Republicans behind the Reagan nomination just as soon as possible.
Says one top Reagan adviser: "The longer Bush stays in, the longer before we can concentrate on trying to beat Carter in the fall. Also, the longer Bush stays in, the better the chance that divisions will be built in the party that will cause many Republicans not to vote for Reagan in the fall but instead to vote for either [independent candidate John] Anderson or Carter."
Actually, much of the Reagan effort to dissuade Mr. Bush from continuing on -- now that he has suffered three more one- sided primary defeats to the Californian in Indiana, Tennessee, and North Carolina while winning only in Washington, D.C. -- has been on trying to get former President Gerald Ford to speak out publicly in favor of Mr. Bush's stepping aside.
Up to now, there has been no evidence that Mr. Ford was willing to play this role.
Mr. Reagan's overpowering lead over Mr. Bush comes down to this: Reagan 803 delegates; Bush 177 delegates; 998 needed to win.
The three Carter landslide wins over Senator Kennedy, in Indiana, Tennessee, and North Carolina (along with the loss to the senator in the District of Columbia) puts the President at 1,365 delegates with 1,666 needed to gain the nomination -- according to a United Press International count.
The Carter people say he has closer to 1,500. In any event, Senator Kennedy must take 9 out of every 10 delegates still being contested in order to overtake Mr. Carter. This would appear to be an impossible task.
But still, even as the primaries wind down to the final month, the major political strategy centers on healing.
However, it may be a while before anything like Carter-Kennedy rapprochement comes about.
"[Carter campaign manager] Bob Strauss will have to be the main architect in this project," says one White House source. "He's a magician at bringing about party unity. We saw what he did when he was [Democratic national] chairman. But this will be even a bigger challenge for him."
"My guess is," Mr. Strauss told reporters over lunch Wednesday, "that Kennedy will be a positive force for the presidential ticket in the fall."
The problem of burying the hatchet in the Carter-Kennedy situation also contains these facets.:
* Both Messrs. Carter and Kennedy dislike each other intensely -- or so they have indicated to those close around them. Although both are political professionals, they will have to work extremely hard to rise above the personal feelings.
* Television advertisements from both camps have become quite stinging. The Carter ads raise questions about Mr. Kennedy's character. And Kennedy ads stress what they say in Mr. Carter's complete incompetency.
These ads, one key Republican chortles, "are helping us win in the fall."