WAshington — The primaries go on -- but the overwhelming consensus among both political observers and key politicians is that the races are "all over" and that it will be Jimmy Carter vs. Ronald Reagan in November.
With the final primaries only a month away, neither Sen. Edward M. Kennedy nor former UN Ambassador George Bush has given up. But the possibility that either could catch the leaders seems remote.
Mr. Bush did score in distinct "moral" victory over Governor Reagan in Texas, making a surprisingly close race of it even in defeat.
On the basis of this impressive showing, Mr. Bush may be able to persuade supporters to come up with some $600,000 that he needs to put into operation his final stretch drive for the nomination.
* But Mr. Reagan won about 59 delegates in Texas to Mr. Bush's 21. And at the same time the former California governor was picking up another 32 delegates in caucuses in Arizona, Oklahoma, Missouri, and Guam to Mr. Bush's 8.
The President beat Senator Kennedy badly among every voter group in the Texas primary except Mexican-Americans. Even blacks in Texas supported Mr. Carter by a 2- to-1 margin. In recent primaries in Michigan and Pennsylvania, there was evidence that black voters were moving toward the Massachusetts Senator.
Looking ahead, Mr. Carter is expected to pile up votes on Tuesday (May 6) in primaries in Indiana, North Carolina, and Tennessee. Only in Washington, D.C., is Senator Kennedy the favorite to win.
This means that by Wednesday morning Mr. Carter may have accumulated about 1, 500 of the 1,666 delegates needed for nomination.
However, the Kennedy forces keep pressing on. They feel that the President somehow will fall apart politically -- and their candidate will be there to pick up the pieces.
Senator Kennedy is particularly looking to coming primaries in Oregon, California, New Jersey, and Ohio, as opportunities to demolish the President.
Both Messrs. Bush and Kennedy are not talking about actually winning the nomination via the primaries. Instead, their "victory" plans call for getting close enough to the leaders to enable them to take away delegates at the national conventions this summer.
Messrs. Bush and Kennedy are counting on a national sentiment that by July will reject Messrs. Carter and Reagan in the polls.
Meanwhile, the President has moved out of the White House Rose Garden and onto the campaign trail.
At first, his trips are scheduled for cities in states where there is no coming primary or caucus (Philadelphia and Des Moines).
The planned formats, at least at first, will be of the town-meeting variety, or occasions where the Carter aides will be saying that the President is delivering substantive nonpolitical speeches.
But this Carter emergence probably will evolve, administration sources admit, into an old-fashioned presidential campaign effort in states where Senator Kennedy is concentrating his principal, last-ditch effort.
Thus, it seems, voters in California, Ohio, New Jersey, and perhaps Oregon may see a handshaking, shirt-sleeved President in action soon.