Washington — With the Texas delegate contests this Saturday (May 3), the presidential nomination race enters the homestretch. Contenders Edward M. Kennedy and George Bush -- behind 2 to 1 and 5 to 1, respectively, in delegates -- will try again in Texas to fend off conclusive also-ran status. They are hoping for "something monumental happening" to give them a chance for the nomination.
But the fence posts are passing fast.
Texas and next week's primaries -- Colorado on Monday (May 5), and Indiana, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Washington, D.C., on Tuesday (May 6) -- mark the two-thirds point in the delegate race. The three-fourths mark will be reached two weeks later, May 20, after contests in Maryland, Nebraska, Utah, and Oregon.
Then quickly, in another 14 days, it will all be over in the June 3 finale, when eight states including the big three of California, Ohio, and New Jersey, vote for party nominees.
At best, Texas offers Senator Kennedy and Mr. Bush a chance to hang in the race a while longer.Texas party officials give the senator at most a shot at 40 percent of the state's Democratic delegates, Mr. Bush gaining perhaps 15 percent of the Republican delegates.
Senator Kennedy's people think he could win in Colorado, and do respectably in Indiana. Washington, D.C., Democratic Party officials call the race in the capital district very close, with either the senator or President Carter a possible winner.But already Mr. Kennedy is focusing his final drive in the later Maryland, Oregon, California, Ohio, and New Jersey contests, hoping to show that Mr. Carter's standing with voters at the race's end is lower than his delegate edge suggests. Next week, Mr. Carter is expected to widen his lead with victories in North Carolina, Tennessee, And Indiana.
George Bush's pollster, Robert Teeter, says the volatile public mood -- with the prospect of Iran events pitching public sentiment -- is keeping the Republican race alive, too.
"As volatile as things have been," Mr. Teeter says, "we don't know how it will all turn out." The Pennsylvania win [for Bush] lets him stay alive. It keeps [Ronald] Reagan from locking it up for a while longer. It increases the chance of something monumental happening . . . opening the door [for Bush]."
Mr. Teeter, regarded by his pollster colleagues as one of the ablest readers of public opinion, sees the potential for surprising turns in the campaign before November.
He does not predict a Republican win, but sees the "potential" for one. "But we don't know," he says.
"The public is frustrated, anxious, fearful," Mr. Teeter says. "They feel the wheels are coming off. They see Carter as very weak. "The whole Iranian issue -- as a political matter and how it affects the public -- is one of those issues that tends to take on a life of its own."
Front-runners Carter and Reagan may have an easy time of it in the next few days against their party rival in Texas, Indiana, and Tennessee. But against each other, the race is expected to be tough and close in November.
"The Carter people are pointing to November in everything they're doing here for the primary," says Gary Morrow, executive director of the Texas Democratic Party. "The polls show Carter and Reagan dead even -- that's normally the case in this state. With the election five months away, Reagan will [commit a] faux pas at least twice, and Carter will, too."
The Texas Republican Party's executive director, Wayne Thornburn, also indicates Mr. Reagan's Texas campaigning is built as much toward November as to this Saturday, anticipating a close fight against Mr. Carter.
Agnes T. Bird, vice-chairman of the Tennessee Democratic Party, says Mr. Carter should win in a one-sided Democratic vote next Tuesday, but November's outcome is in doubt. "It will depend on whether this is a Republican or Democratic year," Mrs. Bird says."We don't know yet."
Indiana political professionals say Mr. Reagan's campaigning in the Hoosier State, where Mr. Bush is not even competing for Tuesday's primary, is likewise geared toward the November contest. "Indiana has gone Democratic only four times in this century -- the last time in 1964," says state Democratic spokesman John Livengood.