Washington — Enter Jerry Ford? The moment of decision for the former President fast approaches. He says it is a "50-50" proposition as to whether he will enter the Republican presidential race.
But an argument rages among politicians and political observers over the advisability of Mr. Ford entering the struggle. And he himself must consider these factors:
On the plus side, current polls show him more likely to beat President Carter in November than the current GOP front-runner Ronald Reagan. The former President is also extremely popular with party regulars and he ranks high with independents.
On the minus side, it is possible that he is already too late to try to head off the Reagan candidacy. And there is a danger that such a late entry into the primaries would alienate Reagan backers and other conservatives and cause a deep party split. Also, some say Mr. Ford's now high standing in public opinion polls could sharply dip with an official announcement of candidacy.
A new ABC News-Harris survey indicates that a total of 33 percent of all Republicans and independents prefer Mr. Ford, compared with 27 percent for Ronald Reagan, 15 percent for John Anderson, and 14 percent for George Bush.
This survey also shows that when pitted against Mr. Carter among a cross section of 1,498 likely voters, Mr. Ford runs ahead by 54 to 44 percent. Among these same voters, former California Governor Reagan is beaten by the President, 58 to 40 percent.
Monitor conversations with GOP leaders, both in Washington and around the country, disclose a growing feeling among Republican moderates that former UN ambassador Bush is fading and that Illinois Representative Anderson has too far to go.
Thus, they are clamoring for a Ford candidacy, asserting that Mr. Reagan's appeal to voters is too narrow for him to have a chance of winning the general election.
Mr. Reagan is openly welcoming a Ford challenge, obviously believing that he would benefit from a sympathy vote should the former president try to wrest the nomination from him at this late moment.
Also, at least as of now, Mr. Ford cannot count on his old friends, Messrs. Bush and Anderson, to give him help. Both see Mr. Ford's entry as further splitting moderate Republicans, thus making it easier for Mr. Reagan to win.
Finally, some observers here see Mr. Ford's entry as unlikely simply because he has told inquirers all along that he would come in only if his party drafted him. They point out that while many party leaders are encouraging Mr. Ford to run, nothing like a party draft has developed.
Other observers say that Mr. Ford is so upset at the possibility of Mr. Reagan winning the nomination that he will decide to campaign actively, despite the probability of a difficult and perhaps bitter struggle.