Washington — "Obviously, Fritz is thinking about 1984. But he's not going to rush it." That is the assessment of a close friend and longtime associate of former vice-president Walter F. Mondale. It jibes with what others who have recently talked with Mr. Mondale are saying.
Thus it seems clear that, unlike Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts (who already is lining up support around the United States for another try at the presidency), Mondale will take his time in deciding on whether to make the run.
A Mondale candidacy would, it seems, only come if Jimmy Carter decides not to launch a comeback. But the judgment among leading Democrats now is that Mr. Carter won't run for president again.
"I'd be very surprised if he did," new Democratic National Committee chairman Charles Manatt told reporters the other day. Mr. Manatt only a few days before had a phone conversation with the former president.
Mondale also keeps in touch with Carter via telephone. He plans to sit down with the former president in a few months and find out, if possible, if Carter plans to make the race in 1984.
Former Democratic national chairman John White says he is convinced Carter will never seek office again, adding: "I hope he doesn't. I don't think he should go through all that again -- for his sake."
But Mr. White told the Monitor he is hearing from political sources in the South that Carter is becoming interested in another try at the presidency. "There's talk," White says, that former White House chief of staff Hamilton Jordan is putting together a memo on how Carter could win in 1984.
One longtime friend of Mondale, after spending some time with him recently, says, "I think Fritz already is running."
But there is no evidence of overt steps on Mondale's part aimed at gaining the presidency. Instead, he is working hard as an attorney here in Washington, trying, as he says, to "make some money."
But his thoughts obviously are on something more than enlightenment when he tells friends that he intends to spend as much time as he can in the next year or two in meetings with the "best thinkers."
Mondale is particularly interested in exploring what foreign policy experts have to say about how best to improve US-Soviet relations.
"I'm very worried about US-Soviet relations," he says. "I cannot understand -- it just baffles me -- why the Soviets these last few years have behaved as they have.
"Maybe we have made some mistakes with them. Why did they have to build up all these arms? Why did they have to go into Afghanistan? Why can't they relax just a little bit about Eastern Europe? Why do they try every door to see if it is locked?"
Of Mondale's future, on of his friends says:
"He's going to be very quiet in his first year off from holding office. . . . He needs to study the issues -- decide what he should think and what he could say. As vice-president he was always having to react. Now he has a chance to think through and then express his own views on the big issues."