Hartford, Conn. — President Carter and Ronald Reagan are running cheek by jowl in New England's second-largest state. While the Republican challenger continues to lead in Connecticut polls, as he has for months, the race for the state's eight electoral votes is so close it could go either way.
The President has underscored the importance of the state to his re-election strategy by including stops here in his mid-October campaign hopscotch through the Northeast.
Carter activists suggest the outcome could hinge on the extent to which they are successful in convincing liberal Democrats and anti- Reagan Republicans to abandon their support for independent presidential candidate John Anderson, who in mid-September ranked as high as 27 percent popularity in polls.
They are encouraged by a Hartford Courant statewide poll that shows the Illinois congressman, who a month ago was a close third behind the major party candidates, has skidded to 16 percent. The poll, published Oct. 19, shows Mr. Reagan favored by 37 percent of those interviewed, with Mr. Carter favored by 35 percent. The remaining 12 percent were undecided.
Although Democrats outnumber Republicans in Connecticut by 39 percent to 26 percent in voter registration, the balance of political power is held by the 36 percent of the approximately 1.5 million voters who belong to neither party. Over the years they have demonstrated considerable voting independence.
An important Reagan asset here could be running mate George Bush, a Connecticut native and winner of last spring's state GOP primary. The state has never been a Carter stronghold, despite the backing of Gov. Ella T. Grasso and a generally liberal record in elections.
Four years ago Carter lost Connecticut to Gerald Ford. In the Democratic preference primary last March he was bested by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts.
The Carter campaign has been aided by Senator Kennedy, who has campaigned for him here. Another significant boost has come from US Rep. Christopher J. Dodd, the Democratic nominee for the US Senate who has helped woo Anderson supporters to the Carter fold.
With Mr. Dodd running 20 percentage points stronger than the President in voter preference polls, the senatorial candidate's political coattails could help Carter to a Connecticut victory Nov. 4, seasoned political observers say.