Washington — Jaw jutted, arms stretched out clock-like, the GOP's maverick campaigner, John Anderson, appeals to growing crowds in an American electorate not wholly pleased with the front-running Democratic and Republican presidential alternatives.
"With Anderson, it's a positive vote -- not a negative vote, as for Reagan or Carter," says Earl Fisher, a DePaul University law student. "In my generation, we've never known a candidate that inspired commitment -- what it must have been like in the Jack Kennedy era."
But to the political pros, who set minor store by crowd inspiration, Mr. Anderson has little chance in either of his two major options: taking the GOP nomination, or, failing that, running as an independent in November.
The history of past third-party tries -- and the formidable organizational and fund-raising hurdles that lie ahead if Mr. Anderson decided to go it alone -- argue against an independent race for the White House, the experts say.
Ironically, failing the positive goal of winning in November, such an effort could at best prove negative: keeping either of the two likely nominees, Jimmy Carter or Ronald Reagan, from an outright win.
To win the Republican nomination outright, Mr. Anderson must win convincingly April 1 in Wisconsin -- where at least 40 percent of the voters consider themselves independents -- to prove he has as much drawing power among independents, moderate Republicans, and liberal Democrats as he claims. His aides say he is strong in Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana, and that he has launched a strong California political network. They point out that even if he is short on delegates by June, 720 delegates will go to the Detroit convention in July unbound.
But the experts say Mr. Anderson will have to prove his nomination formula correct at the polls.
Technically, for an independent race after the convention, Mr. Anderson could still get on the ballot in 33 states with 344 electoral votes -- more than the 270 needed for election, says Austin Ranney, an elections expert at the American Enterprise Institute. "But this would require a major organizational effort," Mr. Ranney says. "He would have to put an organization into action now. He can't wait until after the convention to gear up."
Money, too, is a problem. Third-party candidates do not receive the $29.5 million in federal campaign funds that go to the Democratic and Republican candidates for the general election.
Mr. Anderson would have to raise money on his own, still restricted by the $1 ,000 individual giving limits. He would have to wait until after the election for federal reimbursement. He could then collect funds if he got 5 percent of the popular vote, the amount keyed to his voter percentage.
Historically, the most an independent party got in electoral votes in this century was Teddy Roosevelt's two-state take (Pennsylvania and Michigan) in 1912 , the year his Bull Moose Party so weakened William Howard Taft's Republican effort that Democrat Woodrow Wilson won.
The third-party spoiler record was repeated as recently as 1976, Mr. Ranney says, when Eugene McCarthy's feeble independent effort was enough to help give Gerald Ford four states that might otherwise have gone for Jimmy Carter. In those states, the McCarthy total was greater than Mr. Ford's margin over Mr. Carter. Without Mr. McCarthy's presence to divert Democratic voters, Mr. Carter might have won by more than his modest 56 electoral-vote margin, Mr. Ranney suggests.
This time, most experts assume Mr. Carter would be hurt more than probable opponent Reagan by an independent Anderson effort in November. Representative Anderson would be a factor in states like New York, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Pennsylvania -- all won by Mr. Carter in 1976.
But he also would affect Republican prospects. He could draw critical votes in Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, and California -- GOP territory in 1976.
Mr. Anderson in recent days has left the question of an independent race vague, saying he is being strongly urged to consider the prospect.
Meanwhile, his aides are busy pointing out that Mr. Anderson would have done even better among Democratic crossovers in the Illinois primary against Mr. Reagan if women's activists had not urged support of Democratic candidates pledged to support that state's lagging Equal Rights Amendment effort.
Democratic leaders in Washington argue that Mr. Anderson's best reason not to run is his own self-interest: He is young enough to run again as a Republican in 1984, they say, when Mr. Reagan likely will not be in the picture.