Washington — The Anderson candidacy is gaining so much momentum that it has already caused a strategy reassessment in the Carter camp. From attacks bent on destruction, the President's political tactics now will shift to treating the congressman with consideration. The Carter campaign's hope is that many liberal Democrats now supporting Mr. Anderson will be willing to vote for President Carter if, in the end, the Anderson candidacy begins to fade.
"Those Democrats certainly aren't going to want to waste their votes," says one top Carter political hand. "But, at the same time, they aren't going to vote for us if they are angry at the way we've treated Anderson. Instead, they'll sit on their hands and their non-vote will help Reagan."
The Reagan camp also is taking a new look at John Anderson and is coming to the conclusion that the independent's candidacy is more likely to hurt than help Mr. Reagan's prospects of winning in November.
Despite polls that indicate Mr. Anderson would probably be a boon to Mr. Reagan, Reagan tacticians see their candidate losing the support of "moderate" Republicans and independents to the Illinois congressman. They are concerned that this, of itself, could re-elect President Carter.
Thus, a "let's-be-good-to-Anderson" policy is emerging in the camps of both major parties at the very time when Mr. Anderson is beginning to be perceived by pollsters and political leaders as a possible winner and not just a serious contender.
It now appears that Representative Anderson's name will be placed before the voters in 40 or more states.
The shift in Carter strategy includes a decision not to use large amounts of Democratic National Committee funds to try to keep Mr. Anderson's name off state ballots. Until recently there was an indication that the committee was budgeting $250,000 for this purpose. Now, party chairman John White has denied this intention, saying that no set amount would be put to this use -- and that probably nothing like this will be done, at least in the near future.
And the plan for anti-Anderson rhetoric has been scrapped, at least for the present. An earlier decision to use both the stump and television to attack Mr. Anderson and his rhetoric is no longer "operative," as one administration source puts it.
Actually, candidate Anderson is encountering some problems. But they are mainly internal and organizational.
David Garth, Mr. Anderson's top campaign strategist, and Stewart Mott, a major Anderson fund-raiser, have been locked in a quarrel for some time. Now Mr. Garth has emerged as the winner. Mr. Mott no longer is with the campaign. Mr. Mott's fund-raising help will be greatly missed.
But the Anderson candidacy keeps gaining ground. Political leaders of both major parties now say that the congressman already has passed the first big test: People generally perceive him to be a serious candidate in his own right, and not a spoiler.
Political observers say that Mr. Anderson is handling himself in a presidential way, that his words and acts continue to command public attention.
They add that many voters continue to say they would vote for almost anyone other than Mr. Carter or Mr. Reagan, and that this attitude continues to help to strengthen the Anderson candidacy.