Washington — Candidates trying to catch the front-running Carter and Reagan campaigns are hoping to make a new race ot it with the Help of "swing" voters in the remaining primaries.
But already the chances of overcoming the leads of Jimmy Carter on the Democratic side and Ronald Reagan on the Republican by putting together a winning effort based on victories in the 11 remaining "open primaries" appear slim at best.
Former President Gerald Ford, in announcing over the weekend that he would not seek the Republican nomination, tacitly acknowledged that the practical odds were against his late-blooming candidacy based on a centrist appeal.
Similarly, John Anderson contends he appeals to a broader spectrum of voters than front-runner Ronald Reagan. The Illinois Congressman says he can mount a more "Winnable" campaign for November, and that the will be able to prove this by pulling independent and crossover support for the remaining primaries, beginning in his home state.
Those primaries in which any voter can take either party ballot are in Illinois; Wisconsin (April 1); Texas (May 3, Republican only); Indiana and Tennessee (May 6); Michigan (May 20); Idaho (May 27); Ohio and Montana (June 3). In Kansas (April 1) and Rhode Island (June 3) only independents are eligible to take either ballot.
Mr. Reagan holds a formidable early delegate lead. Of the 217 Republican delegates chosen in primaries, he has three-fourths, plus at least half of the 268 caucus delegates chosen so far. He has, then, at least one-fourth of the 998 delegates needed for first-ballot nomination at the July 14-18 Republican National Convention in Detroit. Mr. Anderson's total of 19 delegates -- 13 from the Massachusetts primary, 6 from Washington State's caucus -- puts him hardly out of the starting gate. Worse for Mr. Anderson, even if he beats Mr. Reagan in the Illinois popular vote tally, he may gain little in the crucial delegate count. Republican sources emphasize that Illinois really has a two-level primary -- a statewide preferential vote which decides no delegates and separate delegate ballots in the congressional districts. In the delegate voting, Reagan is expected to edge out Anderson. But the greatest number of Illinois delegates -- as many as three-fourths -- are expected to go "uncommitted" to the convention.
Just as harsh for Mr. Anderson's prospects: Illinois Gov. James Thompson, a Republican moderate who pulled Gerald Ford to an Illinois edge over Jimmy Carter in 1976, has stayed neutral so far. His neutrality, along with that of Ohio Gov. James Rhodes, in effect deprived Ford of a moderate GOP and independent base in the Midwest for the remaining months of the campaign.
The size of the Midwest delegations -- Ohio and Illinois together hold 9 percent of the convention total -- gives them bargaining power if they go to the convention mostly uncommitted. A Reagan nomination enhances the chance of Midwest moderate Republican for vice-president -- with Thompson of Illinois, Michigan's Gov. William G. Milliken, and border-state Sen. Howard H. Baker Jr. of Tennessee in the running.
With key Midwest moderates talking up Mr. Reagan's acceptability, Mr. Anderson is left largely on his own -- where he has been so far -- in his bid for crossover and independent votes.
Anderson strategists say they need to win the open primaries in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan, plus California, to come within 200 delegates of the 998 needed. Mr. Anderson would have to acquire the remaining 200 delegates from candidates like George Bush who might drop out, they say.
Mr. Anderson is not on the March 25 New York ballot, but intends to claim support of an uncommitted slate there. He is also not on the crucial April 22 Pennsylvania ballot, but has a write-in effort under way there. In California, Mr. Anderson is mounting a drive to get Democrats and independents to register for the June 3 Republican primary, a winner-take-all affair sending 8.4 percent of the GOP convention's total, or 16.8 percent of the delegates needed to win. California voters have until May 5 to change party registration.
On the Democratic side, Mr. Anderson's attraction of independent and Democratic voters to the Republican ballot in Illinois and other open primaries could hurt Jimmy Carter and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy about equally, strategists for the two say.
A smaller Democratic turnout in Illinois traditionally helps the candidate backed by Chicago's mayor and the Cook County Democratic machine -- Mr. Kennedy, in this case. Mr. Kennedy will likely to lose some liberal support to Mr. Anderson, particularly in Chicago's suburbs.
But Jewish and conservative Illinois Democrats with Republican leanings might abandon Mr. Carter for favorite son Anderson.