GOP: Can Reagan stay on top?

while Sen. Edward M. Kennedy faded further, Ronald Reagan's candidacy found new life. But more than anything else the New Hampshire results turned the GOP presidential contest into a horse race.

Iowa Gov. Robert D. Ray, a Republican, told reporters over breakfast Wednesday that he believes the contest for his party's nomination is "still in a shakedown period."

"It all can shift quickly," he said, adding: "First it was [George] Bush out in front after Iowa. Now Reagan is out front. Who will be out front next?"

* Despite loss of momentum, George Bush still holds an edge in the Massachusetts primary and may also win the Vermont "beauty contest," both set for March 4.

But mr. Reagan's leads in the four Southern primaries that follow -- in South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, and Alabama -- have been strengthened by his impressive New Hampshire victory.

On the other hand, according to a poll of just a few days ago, Mr. Bush was 8 percentage points ahead of Mr. Reagan in Illinois, a primary set for March 18.

But now, according to Monitor correspondent Peter Spotts in Chicago, the former California governor may be gaining ground on Mr. Bush in Illinois.

Thus, the immediate outlook for the Republicans is one of uncertainty: One or more candidates other than Reagan and Bush might come up with surprises that would further cloud the GOP picture.

Congressman John B. Anderson of Illinois, for example, could show some impressive strength in the Massachusetts primary -- enough to give him a leg up to making a good race in his own state primary and, perhaps, elsewhere, such as in Wisconsin.

Howard H. Baker, Jr. may also gain momentum, too. However, this doesn't seem too likely in any of the coming New England primaries.

And will John B. Connally start to fulfill some of his early promise? Post-New Hampshire primary reports from Monitor writers across the United States don't show it yet.

Southern correspondent Robert Press says: "Connally's trying awfully hard to finish at least second in South Carolina. But, as of now, he's behind Reagan and Bush."

Is this the kind of back-and-forth campaign that will draw former President Gerald Ford into the fray before long? He has said again and again that if the primaries don't begin to produce a clear-cut winner, he will move in.

However, at this time, Mr. Reagan is clearly rejuvenated -- a front-runner who just might keep that place.

On the Democratic side, the Monitor's post-New Hampshire assessments show President Carter in a commanding position. Many political pundits say it seems unlikely that Senator Kennedy can struggle on much longer. While the Massachusetts primary is conceded to Senator kennedy, Mr. Carter -- according to Monitor writers -- is way out front in the coming primaries in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Puerto Rico, and Illinois.

Monitor New England political writer George Merry says that the President now may "do better" in Massachusetts. "Anything Carter gets over 35 percent will be doing better," he explains.

Mr. Merry says the outcome in the Vermont primary may follow the pattern of Maine and New Hampshire -- but the picture there is not clear.

Correspondent Spotts cites a recent poll showing President Carter's lead over Senator Kennedy in Illinois at 66 percent to 13 percent. Questions the continuous Carter victories raise.

How long will Mr. Kennedy be able to come with the campaign funds he needs?

How long will he be able to keep up the morale of his workers?

And how much longer can he go on without being vulnerable to the charge that his candidacy is doing nothing more than harass the President?

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