Anderson takes the plunge -- but leaves on life jacket

John Anderson, changing from a Republican to an independent campaign for the White House, has left himself room to reconsider if the going proves hopeless. Pragmatic worries about his chances weigh heavily against the "political evangelism" that spurs Mr. Anderson on, the former Republican candidate's associates say.

In Washington April 24, Mr. Anderson announced that "an exploratory group" would put his name on state ballots for November as an independent; they will also study legal, financial, and political questions. He said he would retain his 30-year ties to the REpublican Party.

"It is obvious that this is a most serious step, and that it is a step fraught with obstacles," Mr. Anderson said. "But on balance the obstacles pale when one considers that too many people in our nation are disillusioned with the prospective choices our party structures are offering.

"The result is frustration, apathy, and despair. The danger is that a significant portion of the nation may choose not to participate in the political process in November 1980."

Mr. Anderson must recast a candidacy and complete a campaign in five months -- a task modern campaigners give two or more years to, they point out.

He has missed filing deadlines in six states with 78 electoral votes -- already a handicap when 270 electoral votes are needed to win. As an independent he will not get the $29 million in federal funds the Democratic and Republican nominees will get for post-convention expenses.

No independent of third-party effort in this century has succeeded. But Mr. Anderson's independent candidacy faces other basic challenges, his associates say.

"Anderson's voters believe there is little difference between politicians," Mr. Bennett says. "His voters are smack in the middle of the political spectrum. They don't care strongly one way or the other about issues. From Vietam on through today's inflation, they feel things are out of control. They see Anderson as someone who can change things. They like his honesty. They like his political evangelism. It is almost a religious experience -- they think that kind of fervor ir necessary to turn things around."

The big "if" for Anderson, however, will be to get this big bloc of turned-off voters to actually go to the polls, Mr. Bennett says.

James Nowland, University of Illinois political scientist and early Anderson campaign director, points out that Mr. Anderson will have to come up with"a substantive program and format" as a candidate without a party or ready tradition behind him. "Personality and articulateness may not be enough to sustain him through November and beyond," Mr. Nowland says.

About one voter in five now favors an Anderson candidacy, national polls show. In the US electoral system, the candidate winning a plurality of a state's votes gets all its electoral ballots. So Mr. Anderson's votes must be "bunched" in enough states to give him a total of 270 electoral votes.

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