Candidates of 1980 invite comparisons with past US 'chiefs'
Voices and faces of presidents past hover over the candidates in campaing '80 . Two weeks into the fall campaign the public is hearing familiar ode-to- the-chief echoes, political experts say.Skip to next paragraph
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Former White House Democrats are invoked openly. More subtly, in matters of campaign style, recent White House Republicans play a guiding role.
President Carter invites comparison with Harry Truman, the underestimated scrapper unafraid of "tough decisions," who upset Thomas Dewey. Ronald Reagan invariably recites the words of John F. Kennedy -- the most popular presidential model according to opinion polls. Mr. Reagan quotes Kennedy in lowered, chapel tones to close his speeches in the Roman Catholic working-class centers of the industrial Midwest. And independent John Anderson chose a Kennedy Democrat as running mate in seeking that party's liberal-wing support.
Republican chiefs of state are remembered for the lessons of their campaigns in winning and losing.
"The early Carter TV ads are interesting because they ressemble Richard Nixon's 1972 ads -- the President doing his job, at the White House," observed Thomas E. Patterson, Syracuse University expert on campaign imagery. "Reagan seems to have learned the lesson of the Ford campaign in '76. Ford spent the last seven days of the campaign rushing around, trying to win close contests in a few states -- Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, New Jersey. He lost by being edged out in the largest states -- tossup states he could have won by a few thousand more votes if he'd started earlier."
But it the debate controversies, Carter may be taking the wrong signal from getting away with avoiding a Kennedy debate earlier this year, instead of seeing Reagan's penalty for avoiding the first debate, Mr. Patterson said.
Reagan has reversed the Ford priorities in planning his state electoral college campaign. He is visiting cities like Buffalo; Erie, Pennsylvania; and Milwaukee, earlier -- cities that rim the Great Lakes that are priority states he hopes will give him a winning edge.
Carter, campaigning only one or two days a week, is targeting the labor unions and factory sites as did Nixon in 1972; but mostly he is staying close to Washington and the approval of the presidential field. "Nixon made only a half- dozen campaign swings in 1972," Mr. Patterson says.
Reagan's secure base in the West gives him more firm electoral votes than Carter has to start with, most analysts agree. "Reagan needs only to pull down two or three of the largest states -- Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey," Patterson says. "This is the time to visit cities like Buffalo and Erie. It's an investment. You'd hate to spend the last days of the campaign in Erie."
Stuart Spencer -- the California Republican pro brought in to ride political shotgun on the Reagan campaign, to avoid the candidate's verbal self-ambushes that hurt him in the early going -- agrees the Reagan campaign has its priorities right in focusing on the industrial East, plus Texas and Florida.
"I think that's a Carter puff, a feint," Spencer says of a Carter camp report that the California race is close enough to rate a major Carter drive there. "Carter's not going to spend that much time there," Spencer says. "We're going to win California."
Farther up the Pacific Coast however, Carter forces will "spend time and resources in western Washington" where the contest is tighter, he concedes.
The Reagan camp was decidedly upbeat as Week II of the fall campaign was ending with their Buffalo and Erie stumping. Ten days had passed since the last Reagan gaffe, on Labor Day. "We've had Carter on the defensive all week, Spencer asserts, "on the economy, the Stealth, the debates."
Week III of the campaign will likely be dominated by talk of the first debate , which Carter has vowed to boycott. Both Reagan and Anderson have begun "talking Carter." The issue has given Anderson more access to the national newscasts, and it has shifted the focus from Reagan mistakes to Carter's reluctance to enter the Sept. 21 Baltimore debate.
"The Carter people are making a mistake," Anderson says. "party they're bluffing. They're still bargaining. They dearly want that one-on-one debate. They can still take on Reagan one-on-one later. but the Carter people are looking at the wrong lesson." he says. "They're looking at their avoiding a Kennedy debate, which didn't hurt them.
"But they can't easily dismiss the way Reagan's absence from the Iowa debate hurt him.
"The public is used to predebate maneuvering. There wasn't much fuss over the Iowa debate, from the public's standpoint, until Reagan failed to show up. It's the physical presence or absence at a debate that counts.
"After the Iowa debate went on without him, Reagan's support sagged. After he appeared in the New Hampshire debate, he suddenly recovered.
"By not debating, Carter's increasing his risks, not cutting his losses."