Reagan's strategy

As a president of the United States, Ronald Reagan would be "flexible" and "pragmatic" -- not down-the-line conservative. Further, the Californian's main thrust in his probable run as the Republican candidate this fall will be to capture and hold low- and middle-income voters, most of whom now are either Democrats or independents.

With his selection as the GOP nominee increasingly likely after victories in the Maryland and Nebraska primaries May 13, Mr. Reagan's strategy for the coming campaign was detailed by his manager for the primaries, William Casey, to a group of reporters at breakfast May 14:

* Mr. Reagan will focus on the nation as a whole in his anticipated run against President Carter -- who is close to clinching the Democratic nomination after winning in Tuesday's primaries.

But the former California governor's chief concentration will be on the Northeast and Midwest, plus Texas and Florida.

According to Mr. Casey, Mr. Reagan plans to concede nothing to Mr. Carter in the South -- hoping to pick up some of the states that went solidly for the Georgian in 1976.

Mr. Reagan expects to win California handily. "He beat a sitting President 2 to 1 [in California] in the 1976 primary -- and we expect to do the same with Carter," Mr. Casey says.

* As the Republican candidate, Mr. Reagan would stick closely to a "positive" campaign -- showing how he would improve the economy and foreign relations.

If anything negative were done -- attacking President Carter's record or his failure to fulfill promises -- Mr. Reagan would use surrogates.

But the Reagan people expect that the President's approach will be "highly negative," seeking to discredit Mr. Reagan, his philosophy, and his administration as governor of California.

"They have to be negative," Mr. Casey says. "What can they say about their own record?"

* Above all, according to Mr. Casey, the Reagan effort this fall will be to persuade the public that the Californian is a reasonable, practical person.

"We need to change this public perception of Reagan," Mr. Casey says. He cites the Reagan record as governor to show that the Californian was much more moderate than had been anticipated.

A reporter at the breakfast asked Mr. Casey: "But won't Reagan be vulnerable to the charge that he is likely to drop the bomb, that he is an Attila the Hun?"

Said Mr. Casey: "Anyone who looks at Reagan knows he's not an Attila the Hun."

* The Reagan direction in coming months -- his philosophical thrust -- will be reflected in the GOP platform. If Mr. Reagan's wishes are carried out, the platform will be an umbrella for a lot of voters who may have major ideological differences:

"The platform," according to Mr. Casey, "will concentrate on the important issues where there is the maximum of agreement."

* The Reagan planning does take an independent candidacy by Congressman John B. Anderson into consideration. But, according to Mr. Casey, the Reagan view (and his own) is that Mr. Anderson, in the end, will take away as many voters from Ronald Reagan as he will from Jimmy Carter.

"You have to remember," Mr. Casey says, "that Anderson was a Republican. Therefore, there doubtless will be many many Republicans who will find Reagan too conservative and will find it easy to vote for Anderson.

"At the same time, many Democrats who indicate they will back Anderson may, in the end, find it difficult to vote for a man who has been a Republican."

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