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By Clayton JonesStaff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / October 8, 1980


Just after Jimmy Carter won the White House in 1976, a 10-page memo outlining a bid for the presidency arrived on the desk of a Republican congressman named John Bayard Anderson.

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It marked the start of another difficult political passage for the scholarly, scrappy, silver-maned congressman from Swedish immigrant stock.

Former Anderson aide Paul Henry, a political scientist from Duke University and now a Michigan state legislator, wrote in the memo that a cantankerous and economically stagnant America could be ready for a President Anderson in the 1980s.

"I encouraged him to hang onto the conservative tradition," Dr. Henry said.

"The United States is a disgruntled society that has seen its standard of living level off. There have been big dislocations in the political system -- Watergate and Vietnam -- which have created a distaste for politics. The setback of the Nixon and Johnson years, and even Carter's, have brought a swing to an era of disillusionment," he now finds.

"Anderson is fundamentally competent and always articulate, although a little professorial. Even though you disagree with him, you can't help respect him. He is a man of integrity. And his positions are not ones of political convenience, which can appear a bit cavalier until you get a good look at the man," adds Dr. Henry.

However, hanging onto his rocked-ribbed conservative roots, the kind that run deep in the farming flatlands of the 16th Congressional District around Rockford , Ill., 85 miles northwest of Chicago, has not been the hallmark of John Anderson's political life.

Born Feb. 15, 1922, in Rockford and "born-again" religiously at age nine at a evangelical Christian meeting, John Anderson went on to become a four-battle-star Army sergeant in World War II, a Harvard- educated lawyer, and then served three years in the US foreign service in West Berlin. He returned to a Rockford law firm only to run for Winnebago County states attorney in 1956 and win, and then in 1960 took over a safe Republican seat in the US House of Representatives that he has held for 20 years.

Two decades in the swirl of Washington politics, however, helped break his conservative Midwest moorings. He became the third-ranking House Republican, one who worked well with Democrats, and according to many of his colleagues was "the best orator in the House."

In June 1979, after a tough battle in 1978 to retain his House seat against New Right conservatives, he decided to go "for the Big One," as his Democratic House friend Morris Udall put it, rather than run for Congress in 1980.

In-fighting between Old Guard and "moderate" Republicans was not new to the congressman. And when he ended up almost last in a pack of seven prominent GOP candidates heading into the Iowa presidential caucus in January and New Hampshire primary in February, he knew that he had to make a difference. Or at least be different.

On the campaign trail in New Hampshire, where this reporter traveled with Mr. Anderson as the lone press person one cold winter day, the candidate said he had become worried that people he met believed deep down that a US president today could not make much of difference against Big Bureaucracy and Big Business, or really solve an overwhelming inflation and energy problem. "So many people are going to put their heads in their hands and not go to the polls," he said.

Thus was begat "the Anderson difference," a campaign slogan born out of his apparent "courage" to say the unsayable in the nationally-televised Iowa debates , and to offer ideas on energy sacrifice, fiscal conservatism, and liberal social positions that appeared to avoid Republican cliches and that captured the attention of national media.