Reagan's next two years -- through Democratic lenses

Democrats look at the next two years as a healthy period of growth for their political stock as they watch Reagan Republicans end their second year of Washington rule.

Ironically, President Reagan himself has become the Democrats' chief rallying point and organizing factor.

Mr. Reagan won the White House with a crushing 489-to-49 electoral vote margin in 1980. Now, he runs even at best with potential Democratic rivals in ' 84 electoral match-ups.

A state-by-state electoral vote projection, prepared for the Monitor by Democratic professionals, shows Reagan narrowly trailing ''a Democratic contender'' 226 to 219, with 93 electoral votes in doubt. This approximates the Reagan White House's own 1984 projections disclosed earlier this week, which showed Reagan trailing Sen. John Glenn (D) of Ohio 243 to 212, with 83 toss-up votes, and marginally ahead of former Vice-President Walter Mondale. (Under US presidential election rules, in which entire blocks of state electoral votes are awarded by state popular vote, a candidate needs 270 electoral votes to win).

Democrats see these key factors shaping the 1984 run:

* Even before the Democrats have come up with specific proposals of their own , the President's ideological zest is conveniently defining for them a position from which to seek the White House in 1984 - as the counterbalance to the Reagan GOP. The 1984 Democratic position is just left of center, their traditional place on the political spectrum.

* Still, Democrats say they must propose specific legislation on Capitol Hill in crucial areas like jobs and social security reform - possibly in cooperation with moderate Republicans - to demonstrate ''responsibility'' as a party. They can't win by default in '84. They don't necessarily have to prevail in showdowns with Reagan, who still holds a potential veto-lock on Congress. Simply taking concrete stands of their own, Democrats say, helps to dramatize Reagan's right-of-center position and to set the stage for 1984.

* Reagan's tight adherence to ideology has greatly speeded up the pace of the 1984 election. Electoral college projections now cranked out in Washington were unheard of at this stage for any recent White House election cycle. Moreover, Reagan's vulnerability has appeared earlier than for other recent presidents. Last summer's then-Democratic front-runner, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts, led Reagan in national popular vote match-ups.

''That was not the case with Jimmy Carter or any other recent president,'' says Paul Maslin, vice-president of Cambridge Survey Research, Carter's pollsters. ''Carter didn't slip behind a Republican - then it was Jerry Ford - until the summer of '79, his third year. It wasn't until the late summer and fall of '75 that the 1976 campaign began. Reagan has raised the stakes, in offering such a clear policy difference, that there's an acceleration of the process.''

* The South emerges strongly as the focus of the 1984 presidential battle. In sheer weight, the South and border states have the most votes in the Electoral College - 174 - compared with the Midwest's 137, the East's 116, and the West's 111. In the Democrats' projections, the race in the South looks extremely tight - Democrats 65, Reagan 59, with 50 in doubt.

The potential closeness of the Southern campaign gives both parties a problem when it comes to Capitol Hill's legislative agenda. Neither side can easily stray from the South's conservative outlook - Reagan to moderation, or the Democrats to liberalism. But the Democrats can count on blacks and blue-collar whites as more solidly in their column.

''The Deep South - Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, even Tennessee and Mississippi, with concentrations of blacks and blue-collar whites - has become more viable for the Democrats than the border states,'' observes Mr. Maslin. ''The border states - Virginia, Kentucky, Texas - will be tougher for Democrats to win.''

A Republican nominee other than Reagan in 1984 could fare even worse in the South, especially if a battle for succession in the GOP proved bitter. ''If George Bush won the nomination in a Pyrrhic moderate victory over conservatives, almost every southern state would move to the Democrats,'' says Maslin. ''Still, for 1984, Democrats would rather that Reagan be the candidate. . . . he will motivate the Democrats far better than his successor.''

In their projections, Democrats caution that the race at the moment is between the known Reagan and a Democratic unknown.

Electoral vote projections proved more accurate in measuring Reagan's strength against Carter in the 1980 race than did national opinion surveys, at least partly because the electoral college system gives disproportionate weight to less populous states where Reagan ran best.

Overall, the Democrats rate themselves strong for 50 electoral votes, and leaning for 176 votes. They give Reagan an equal number of strong votes - 50 - and 169 leaning votes.

The Democrats' current projection shows Reagan with a powerful 107-to-4 vote lead in the West. In the Midwest, the Democrats lead Reagan 75 to 30, with 32 votes rated a toss-up. The East tilts sharply Democratic for 1984, 82 to 23, with 11 electoral votes rated a tossup.

How Democrats view their chances against Regan in '84 Electoral votes Rating West 111 total Washington 10 0.5 R Oregon 7 0.5 R California 47 1.0 R Nevada 4 1.5 R Idaho 4 2.0 R Montana 4 1.5 R Wyoming 3 2.0 R Utha 5 2.0 R Colorado 8 1.5 R Arizona 7 1.5 R Alaska 3 2.0 R Hawaii 4 1.5 D New Mexico 5 0.5 R Midwest 137 total North Dakota 3 2.0 R South Dakota 3 1.0 R Nebraska 5 2.0 R Kansas 7 1.0 R Minnesota 10 2.0 D Wisconsin 11 0.5 D Iowa 8 0 Illinois 24 0 Missouri 11 0.5 D Michigan 20 1.0 D Indiana 12 1.0 R Ohio 23 0.5 D South/Border 174 total Oklahoma 8 1.0 R Texas 29 0.5 R Arkansas 6 1.0 D Louisiana 10 0.5 R Mississippi 7 0 Alabama 9 0.5 D Georgia 12 0.5 D Florida 21 0 Tennessee 11 o.5 D Kentucky 9 0 West Virginia 6 2.0 D Virginia 12 1.0 R North Carolina 13 0 South Carolina 8 0.5 D Maryland 10 2.0 D D.C. 3 2.0 D East 116 total Pennsylvania 25 0.5 D New York 36 1.0 D New Jersey 16 0.5 R Delaware 3 0 Connecticut 8 0 Rhode Island 4 2.0 D Massachusetts 13 2.0 D Vermont 3 0.5 R New Hampshire 4 2.0 R Maine 4 0.5 D The results: Democratic contender 226, Reagan 219, toss-up 93 Total: 538 electoral votes, 270 needed to win 2 -- strong for designated 1 -- leaning toward designated party 0 -- even

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