New York — A Carter renomination now seems almost inevitable. Not only are the President's people claiming victory -- there also is a growing gloom among the Kennedy forces which says clearly that the fight is going against them.
Several polls of delegates indicate the Carterites, assembling here are holding firm against the only way that Kennedy or another alternative choice could emerge: the release of delegates from their first-ballo commitments.
The Kennedy-led contingent here, it would seem, can only hope to win some platform battles. Carter campaign manager Robert Strauss concedes that the President may have to give ground on soem of the economic planks.
"We're running scared," says Mr. Strauss of the Carter campaign on the eve of the convention. "But I feel comfortable, very comfortable."
In an interview with the Monitor, Strauss said his counts showed that victory for Mr. Carter in the Monday night rules fight is "assured."
And to the persistent question, "Will Carter then become magnanimous and release his delegates?" Strauss keeps answering: "There is no way that can happen. It would break a contract we have with the voters that was made during the primaries. It would be morally wrong."
At the same time Senator Kennedy's top political spokesman, former Wisconsin Gov. Patrick Lucey, was telling the Monitor: "Carter is still the favorite -- no matter hwo the rules fight comes out."
The Carter strategy, as detailed by Strauss and other advisers, comes down to this:
* The President will be as magnanimous to Senator Kennedy as he possibly can. He is going out of his way to avoid saying anything abrasive about the senator.
And by giving Kenendy the podium on Tuesday night he is accepting the risk that the demonstration for the senator might be so big that it could make Kennedy look like he's the most important personage at the convention.
* The President is, in a sense, welcoming a certain amount of dissent, hoping that this will help to show the vast television audience that, despite his unwillingness to release his delegates, this is, indeed, an "open", uncontrolled convention.
Said a Carter aide of this approach: "We really need to do this if the President is going to be able to get a real lift out of this convention. People must feel that everything is open and above board, and that everyone has a chance."
This same aide then went on to say: "However, it's so hard to calibrate the amount of dissension and contention that takes place. It could get out of hand. That's the risk we are going to take."
* Further, the President and those around him feel that he will fare best in a somewhat contentious rather than a bland convention. Carter feels that with some controversy and argument the convention will be much more interesting -- and much more likely to hold the TV viewers of America.
He also is known to believe that with contention that happens but stays in bounds the final moments (with Kennedy, Carter hopes, standing supportively beside him on the podium) could be a triumphant, hihgly emotional, unifying moment which could do much to give a needed lift to the flagging Carter campaign.
* Beyond this, the Carter team is convinced that the President is particularly adept in "looking good" when he has to face up to adversaries in a climate that is less than friendly.
One presidential aide said: "Did you notice how well the President was able to play off the tough and sometimes bitter and even brutal questions he got at the [Aug. 4] press conference? He just stayed cool -- sometimes smiled when he could have bridled or become angry.
"Well, out of that climate and with the President keeping his cool -- well, Jimmy came out way ahead, probably farther ahead than if the questions had been courteous and the situation less contentious."
So it appears that President Carter is looking forward to winning -- but at a convention that is as open as he can make it without losing the nomination. And he would seem to be allowing it to be as contentious as anyonw wants to make it, but short of the kind of disagreement that would stand in the way of a warm, unifying moment at the end.