Washington — Carter administration insiders are depicting the President as increasingly worried that the coming Democratic National Convention will not be the hoped-for turning point in his campaign -- a turning point he needs if he is to catch Ronald Reagan.
Instead, as one presidential political advisers puts it:
"We're afraid that TV will spend most of its time interviewing Carter delegates and saying, 'OK, you're for Carter, but what do you think about the Billy Carter affair and how the President handled it?'"
Adding to Carter concerns was the news that independent John Anderson might drop out of his White House race if Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, or any other person but Carter, wins the Democratic nomination.
The Anderson-Kennedy gambit does two things:
First, it gives Kennedy new leverage in his fight to wrest the nomination away from the President this month.
Second, if Kennedy doesn't win the nomination, it gives Anderson an opening to disaffected Democrats in the fall.
Mr. Carter's political camp still contends that it expects the nomination will belong to him and that there will be a coming together of the dissidents, including Senator Kennedy, behind the nominee.
But there is growing apprehension among Carter campaign leaders and at top levels in the White House that this convention may turn out to be more of a political negative than a positive to the President.
Some veteran president-watchers are being reminded of the tumultuous, bitter 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago that nominated Hubert H. Humphrey. After that convention one prominent political writer wrote: "Humphrey could have gotten a better deal in a bankruptcy court."
These observers are not suggesting that the 1980 convention will approach the emotional conflict that erupted in Chicago and which provided Humphrey with only division and trouble.
But New York does loom as more of a forum for adding visibility to the President's problems -- the Billy Carter matter and the Democrats who don't feel he is electable -- than for providing support and momentum for a victory in November.
Meanwhile, the "Billy affair" keeps building. Now the President is accused of giving his brother Billy copies of State Department cables about Billy's Libyan trips.
The President acknowledges that he discussed "low-classification" State Department cables with his brother. But the White House defense, as it was presented to the Monitor July 31, was this:
* The President recalls only a discussionm of the cables with brother Billy -- but he concedes that he might have given him some copies.
* The information in the cables was not sensitive in terms of national security. Instead, the cables were described as "merely informational" -- detailing with whom Billy Carter met, where he went, and, after his visit, providing evaluation of his visits (concluding that all had gone well).
In a breakfast meeting with reporters Thursday, the President's trade representative, Reubin Askew, expressed doubt that the cables contained anything more than routine information.
Of the whole Billy Carter affair, as it relates to the President, Mr. Askew said, if not for the coming election, "I don't think there would have been such a furor."