Campaign's first salvos show Carter is 'man to beat'
As a test of campaign readiness, Week I of the fall presidential race showed President Carter ahead in deploying his resources as the White House incumbent. However, if his Republican adversary has his way, Week II will be marked by a GOP counterattack -- with former President Ford and others charging the Democrat with politicizing the Oval Office.
Ronald Reagan began the week by adding to his string of regretted phrases on the road. But by Wednesday night in a crucial Middle East speech before the B'nai B'rith in Washington, he may at last have struck the reasoned, understated "presidential" tone his seconds have sought.
Independent John Anderson attempted to make a virtue of his nickle-and-dime resources -- so far barely a sixth of the $29 million each of his opponents receives in federal funds. He put his media guru, David Garth, in charge of the whole campaign, published a hefty "Anderson difference" platform, and nurtured his hope of a presidential debate by suggesting a two-man debate with Mr. Reagan and an empty chair for Mr. Carter. With a chance to borrow against federal funds later, Mr. Anderson very much stayed in the game for Week II.
But it was Carter who quickly set himself as the 1980 performer to beat. On Labor Day, Air Force One headed to Alabama to secure his Southern base. Then it was back to the White House lawn for a labor leaders' picnic. Tuesday in Harry Truman's Missouri he fielded soft questions from citizens -- the kind of sandlot question-and-answer ball game with neighbors he likes, unlike the hot-glare, studio bull pit of presidential debate or media interrogators. Then a Helicopter One flight to Philadelphia to coax urban blacks to vote.
Meanwhile, the President's Middle East negotiator got Egypt and Israel to agree to another Camp David session after the election -- an upstaging maneuver announced only hours before Reagan's B'nai B'rith speech.
The Reagan forces, however, hope to turn Carter's early advantage against him.
At a breakfast meeting with reporters, Reagan co-chairman Anne Armstrong charged the President with "breaking new ground in the use of incumbency to get re- elected."
"As a former ambassador [to Great Britain], I was shocked at what [Carter's Peking Ambassador] Leonard Woodcock did," Mrs. Armstrong said. "Ambassadors represent the entirety of their country. They do not represent one political party."
Citing a list of ambassadorial and Cabinet actions allegedly abetting the Carter campaign, Mrs. Armstrong said it showed what "he's willing to do to put a smoke screen around his record and go to the mat for re-election." She repeated Reagan camp warnings of a possible "October surprise." "We go by patterns," Mrs. Armstrong said. "I'm 90 percent sure it would be something in foreign affairs. He's totally out of control on the economy."
"I'm not saying it would be a military action," Mrs. Armstrong cautioned. "I'm not willing to say President Carter would sacrifice American lives or risk war."
An Iranian offer to release the hostages would be a great relief to the American people, she said. But it would not dispel public concerns "about the continuing, spiraling decline of American prestige," and Carter mistakes that led to the hostage seizure. Nor would "an October surprise be sufficient to meet Carter's basic problem -- the economy," she said.
Meanwhile, Reagan sought to recover from a shaky campaign start after he tripped over his own words. A reference to the Ku Klux Klan Monday was seen by some Southerners as a possible regional slur.
"He did apologize," Mrs. Armstrong said in his defense. "It was a mistake. She compared the Reagan Klan remark to Carter's "ethnic purity" gaffe in the 1976 campaign, and claimed Republican pollster Robert Teeter "sees no effect" from the Reagan verbal slips.
"I don't believe the electoral effect of Reagan's 'glitches' is very great," Mr. Teeter told the Monitor. "None were on major issues, they affected no individuals. But they are a symptom that could snowball and hurt if not corrected. . . ."
"These mistakes . . . may excite the professionals following campaigns, but not the average Joe in Peoria."
By most accounts, Reagan helped recover his campaign balance in his B'nai B'rith address. His carefully crafted speech, delivered in reserved tones, was interrupted by applause nearly 30 times.
"I was very impressed," said Henry Block of Hallandale, Fla. "He didn't speak as a candidate. It seems he's a man of stature. He plays in our corner, but he seems sincere."
Sol Hechtkopf, a B'nai B'rith national committeeman, who has always voted Democratic, was no less impressed. "He spoke actual facts about the Middle East ," Mr. Hechtkopf told the Monitor. "He knew his topic well."