Washington — The Reagan forces now feel they have the election won -- if they don't bobble it. Ronald Reagan's strategy for the remaining weeks will be to run a relatively cautious campaign that will focus on President Carter's record -- but mainly in what one top Reagan aide describes as a "positive way."
"We will not become strident," he says. "That's high-risk politics. Let Carter and his people resort to that, as they have. How can you build on that kind of a campaign?
The Reagan campaign also will seek to present Mr. Reagan as a man of peace and as a candidate who has answers for the nation's economic problems.
Another close Reagan associate, who has counseled him since his first run for governor in the mid-60s, expressed the confidence now brimming over in the Reagan camp: "Reagan now has his rhythm. You can see it as he talks to the crowds and they respond. He needs this rhythm. And he's got it now."
"We're not overconfident," another Reagan aide says. "But we are confident. We feel we have the 270-plus electoral votes to win right now. And we aren't going to make some big mistake and lose it all.
"The Carter people are scared. Carter, himself, has panicked. He's lost confidence in himself and his campaign. That's why he's committed such overkill in his charges against us."
Another key Reagan worker sums up the Reagan strategy in this way: "We'll have no high-risk stuff. It will be much the way Ohio State used to play football -- three yards and a cloud of dust. We won't be complacent. But we will be careful."
Another longtime Reagan aide says, "We all feel very good, very upbeat. In just the last few days I, myself, have felt optimistic for the first time.
"I feel good about this campaign now. So does the governor. You can see it wherever he goes, as he walks around this plane, as he speaks. He feels very good."
One of the reasons the Reagan campaign workers exude such confidence is that their polls show clearly that the American people want a change in the presidency.
"Our man is being elected largely because the people are fed up with Carter," one Reagan campaign official says. "We admit that. And we're glad we have that going for us."
The Reagan camp also feels that it has a much better organization in all of the 50 states. Says one Reagan political organizer, "They [the Carter campaign] just aren't set up this year to get the vote out -- and they need it if they are to win."
Moreover, organized labor, which usually go all-out to help a Democratic presidential candidate simply isn't that much involved in pushing the Carter candidacy. "Sure," said this Reagan aide, "the big unions are endorsing Carter. But the unions' political arm isn't giving him a 100 percent effort."
The Reagan camp has good cause to be optimistic.
A new Washington Post state-by-state survey indicates that, as of now, Reagan has wrapped up or is leading in 28 states with 283 electoral votes -- 13 more than needed for victory.
Carter in that poll has moved out in front in 14 states and the District of Columbia with 151 votes. Eight states are considered tossups.
At the same time a new Newsweek poll showed Reagan leading in 30 states with 321 electoral votes and Carter ahead in 12 states and the District of Columbia with 142 votes.