Washington — Some undrlying anxieties are gnawing at all three candidates. * The President wonders whether he will ever be able to face Reagan alone or whether it will be Reagan and Anderson all the way.
John White recently told the Monitor: "Anderson may beat Carter just as Reagan beat Ford and McCarthy beat Humphrey. Our chief hope is that Anderson's support will slip sufficiently. Those Democratic liberals must come back to Carter if he is to win."
Carter strategists now stress what is called the "10 percent solution." If Anderson fades to 10 percent in the polls, we think we have that problem licked, " Mr. White says. "In fact, we think there's a good chance Reagan will be hurt more than Carter if Anderson's following gets down to that point. The hard core of Anderson's backing comes from GOP moderates and independents who tend to vote for a moderate Republican. They'll stick with Anderson to the end, or not vote at all, rather than go for a GOP candidate they think is too conservative."
The President's new economic plan is, of course, designed to entice liberals back to Carte. And his reluctance to let Anderson be a part of the first debate has obviously been based on the worry that the independent candidate might thereby get a lift for what appears to be a flagging campaign.
* The Reagan camp is increasingly concerned that Mr. Reagan thus far hasn't been able to make the President's alleged failings the issue. "Once we are able to put the voters' attention onto Carter's record," one key Reaganite says, "we'll have the President where we want him."
But Reagan people are worried about how the campaign has gone thus far. The President has held the initiative -- by his adept move to sidetrack the Billy Carter affair and now by unveiling an economic plan of his own.
Reagan, on the other hand, has started out in a faltering way. Parts of this is due to his contradictory comments about Taiwan.
In the end Mr. REagan got the worst of two political worlds out of the incident. He irritated right-wingers who thought Reagan would indeed shift the US to a new pro-Taiwan policy if elected president. At the same time he unsettled many US voters who now feel Reagan does not see the value of keeping Peking as a friend and, hence, a valuable balance against the Soviets.
Also, in terming the Vietnam war a "noble cause," Reagan agitated an unpopular issue. He also stirred up a hornet's nest in his comments about Carter and the Ku Klux Klan, adding to the impression that he gets tangled in his words.
So early in the campaign, Reagan has been on the defensive -- explaining, explaining, explaining. Little wonder that his big lead has dwindled. He has remained the favorite to win. But Reaganites, too, are keeping their eyes on Anderson -- realizing that the more his candidacy is propped up and the more support he has in the end the better chance Reagan has of coming out on top.
* John Anderson's concerns are even bigger than he concedes them to be. He admits to big money problems. And he's shaken up his staff to get an improved, more effective campaign effort -- with David Garth at the reins.
But reporters are told privately that the Anderson campaign may be on the verge of collapse -- that, unless it halts the downward drift soon, the Illinois congressman may soon reach the point where he no longer will be regarded as a serious candidate.