Washington — To viewers of the first presidential debate, the empty chair reserved for President Carter may symbolize a candidate unwilling to meet his two opponents face to face.
But to White House insiders, that empty chair symbolizes a president busy about the nation's business.
Independent vice-presidential candidate Patrick Lucey says he expects a Sept. 21 "surprise" -- that President Carter will show up for the debate. He told reporters here at breakfast that he might just "walk-on."
The dominant perpection at the White House is that the President will do everything possible to upstage the debates.
"More than anything else," says one Carter aide, "the President plans to be doing a lot of things that simply show him going about his business as a president."
Wednesday, Carter along with the vice-premier of China, will sign trade agreements.
Thursday's press conference will give Carter a chance to discuss Iran. Also, that day the President speaks before the Hispanic caucus in Washington.
The President travels to Chicago on Staturday, just before the debate, where he may well say something to a Polish-American group that might divert attention from the Reagan-Anderson encounter.