Washington — No president in recent memory has at this stage in his term come closer to becoming a candidate for reelection. That was the most significant development from a Reagan press conference that was singularly uneventful.
A questioner said Mr. Reagan was quoted by some of his associates as saying he wouldn't run again.
''No,'' said Reagan, ''I have not been telling anyone around me that I won't run again. I have at times even expressed the idea to them that it would be unlike me, I think, to walk away from an unfinished job. And I've suggested that they shouldn't waste their time reading the 'help wanted' ads.''
Presidents Carter, Ford, and Nixon were not giving out such strong hints of running again at similar midway points. The conclusion of political observers here: Barring personal reasons that would cause a decision not to run, Mr. Reagan is already well on his way to again throwing his hat in the ring.
Reagan threw in the familiar qualifiers about it being ''far too early'' to say. But his predecessors have said no more than that. When asked, they often scoffed at questions about their reelection plans.
The President was not in a particularly forthcoming mood, at least not on two prime subjects of the evening - the Mideast and departing Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr.
Mr. Reagan did provide some enlightenment on whether or not Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin had given him assurances that Israeli forces would not invade Beirut. He said that what his press secretary has described as a promise from Mr. Begin not to go into Beirut was a mistake.
''I think,'' said Reagan. ''his (press secretary Larry Speakes) ''not having heard the original - the conversation between Prime Minister Begin and myself - that what he called a promise actually was in a discussion in which, to be more accurate, the prime minister had said to me that they didn't want to, and that they had not wanted to (go into Beirut) from the beginning.''
Q: So it was not a promise not to do it.
The President refused to go into the nuances involved in Mr. Haig's resignation. Instead he complimented him saying: ''His service to this country and his service to our administration has been all that could be desired.'' But some observers here point out that Reagan's praise of Mr. Haig was not overabundant, and was not accompanied with regret that he was leaving.
The President did seek to put an end to speculation that he was thinking of asking Secretary of Labor Raymond J. Donovan to resign because of allegations that Mr. Donovan has ties with organized crime.
''Certainly I'm going to be sticking with him,'' Mr. Reagan told a questioner.