President's steamroller slips into neutral

At the eighth-month point, President Reagan has reached what even those around him concede is a "pause," a moment when some slip in momentum is apparent.

The President is particularly concerned over his inability to gain assurance of congressional approval for the sale of AWACS radar aircraft to Saudi Arabia.

In this opposition on Capitol Hill, Mr. Reagan sees not only a threat to US-Saudi relations but also the prospect of an embarrassing defeat by Congress that could stiffen congressional resistance to his new spending-cut initiatives.

To recapture momentum the President now is scheduling a press conference, hoping to be able to use the forum to make an appeal directly to the American people.

Also Reagan, who has been pretty isolated from formal get-togethers with the media up to now, is due to meet with a number of newsmen and editors in the coming days as he seeks to rally editorial backing for his economic policy.

The President's TV address on the economy did prompt an outpouring of supportive messages to Mr. Reagan from the public. And new polling discloses that the President's approval rating went up a few points after the speech from his very respectable 60 percent standing.

But there was no big, dramatic leap in presidential ratings this time, as there was after his previous speech, when he called for public backing for his economic program.

Further, Democratic leaders are reporting that their messages after Reagan's Sept. 24 speech are running about 50-50 on the President's performance -- whereas, in the earlier Reagan address, they conceded that the letters, calls, and wires were heavily lopsided in favor of Reagan.

For the first time since the President took office there now is evidence of hope among Democratic leaders that Reagan is becoming politically vulnerable -- and that he will not be riding so high that he will help keep the GOP tide running in the 1982 elections.

At the same time Republican leaders are expressing some degree of anxiety ever Reagan's political position. They eye the plunging stock market and, for the first time, privately disclose growing worries that the President's economic program will not really get off the ground.

Some Republicans now are joining Democrats in voicing the opinion that Reagan may have to pull back and delay his tax cuts in order to meet his balanced-budget objective for 1984.

Veteran presidential watchers here are underscoring the importance for the President in making the most of his break in momentum, lest a slide downward begins to take place. These observers express the opinion that once this President -- or any president, for that matter -- falls into a decided and continuing decline, presidential potency may be unrecoverable.

[Meanwhile, speaking Sept. 28 before the International Association of Chiefs of Police meeting in New Orleans, Reagan outlined a new anticrime program. He said the war on crime "will only be won when an attitude of mind and a change of heart takes place in America -- when certain truths take hold again and plant their roots deep into our national consciousness. Truths like: right and wrong matters; individuals are responsible for their actions; retribution should be swift and sure for those who prey on the innocent." He also arranged to attend a Republican Party fund-raiser before returning to Washington. The appearances were his first since his Sept. 24 budget speech.]

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