Washington — Seven days before the presidential election Ronald Reagan, with the help of "bargain" electoral votes in the West, has maintained most of the apparent electoral vote edge he held in mid-September.
And President Carter, by most counts, still is running a close race with "undecided" for second place.
A Monitor assessment a week before the election -- based on Republican, Democratic, and independent sources -- has Reagan in front with 241 electoral votes, Carter leading in states with 155 votes, and 142 votes in doubt.
Most experts are waiting for "something" to happen. The feeling is that if something doesn't happen for the President -- a hostage release, some coup scored in the course of Tuesday's debate, or something unforseen -- it will be a long night Nov. 4, with election center computers spewing out sets of numbers that add up to a virtual popular-vote tie. And that, from present indications, adds up to an electoral-vote win for Reagan.
Other political experts think the electoral tilt toward Reagan is so persistent that it will resist late-hour change. "We have not seen the day of this campaign that Reagan wouldn't have won if a vote was taken," says Robert Teeter, the highly regarded Republic pollster from Michigan. "The greater likelihood is that nothing will happen to offset the strong tilt toward Reagan in the closing days."
National polls show the candidates about even among voters nationwide. But the Electoral College bias in Reagan's Western territory, favoring the less-populated states, suggests he could win the election in state-by-state electoral votes even if losing the overall popular vote count to Carter.
"Carter could be ahead two, three, or four points in the popular vote and still lose the election," says independent pollster Mervin Field.
In teh 13 Western states with 102 electoral votes, there are 341,000 people per electoral vote, by 1970 census figures. The Midwest's 145 electoral votes represent 1 vote per 390,000. The South's 166 electoral votes divide out to 1 per 375,000 population and the East's 125 votes as 1 per 397,000 persons. If the six Great Plains states are included in the Reagan Western preserve, Reagan has even more of a bargain: each of the 137 total electoral votes represents just 330,000 persons.
Carter's electoral vote handicap explains his need to risk a debate with the Republican -- and the Democrats would have been happy to have it much earlier than Oct. 28. Surveys taken as the final-week countdown began show the electoral count still lined up against the President -- but with a large number of states still up for grabs.
Mr. Field's independent national assessment puts the race at Carter 139, Reagan 200, "in doubt" 199. Newsweek calls the race Carter 133, Reagan 220, in doubt 185. U.S. News & World Report -- Carter 164, Reagan 236, "too close to call" 138. Michael Barone, a Democratic pollster, gives Carter 147, Reagan 246, in doubt 145.
And Mr. Teeter, Mr. Barone's Republican counterpart, at the moment gives Reagan a winning margin: 270 to Carter's 174, with 94 in doubt. Teeter, polling daily in Ohio and often in Illinois, has Reagan ahead in both states -- the "must states," in his view, for a Reagan victory.
With 270 electoral votes needed to win, Reagan would appear to have the advantage if he can just hold his own and split the undecided states in the closing hours.
The in-doubt states on various lits include Washington and Oregon in the West; Missouri, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, and Wisconsin in the Midwest; Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, Florida, South Carolina, Kentucky, and Tennessee in the South and border states; Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maine, Vermont, and Delaware in the East.
These 20 states together account for 261 electoral votes, 9 shy of the magic 270. Only 25 electoral votes are rated in doubt in the solid Reagan West, 95 are up for grabs in the closely contested Midwest, a surprisingly 96 in the South where Carter won 154 of the region's 166 electoral votes in 1976, and 45 in the Northeast.
The Monitor composite count finds 48 electoral votes strong for Carter: Hawaii in the West; Rhode Island in the East; Georgia, Arkansas, West Virginia, North Carolina, and the District of Columbia in the South-border state region.
Leaning to Carter are 107 electoral votes: Minnesota and Missouri in the Midwest; Alabama, South Carolina, and Maryland in the South; New York, Delaware, and Massachusetts in the East.
In doubt are Oregon in the West; Wisconsin, Illinois, and Michigan in the Midwest; Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Kentucky in the South-border area; Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Vermont, and Maine in the East.
Leaning to Reagan are 163 electoral votes: Washington, California, and New Mexico in the West; Iowa and Ohio in the Midwest; Texas, Florida, and Virginia in the South; New Jersey in the East.
Strong for Reagan, 78 votes: Nevada, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, Alaska in the West; North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and Indiana in the Midwest; Oklahoma in the Southborder, and New Hampshire in the East.