Fairness will be key 1984 campaign issue for President Reagan
Washington — From a political standpoint, the biggest problem for President Reagan in the 1984 campaign will be the issue of fairness. So say Republican strategists as the Reagan-Bush campaign reelection committee opens its doors in Washington today.
''We have to alter the public perception that he cares more about the rich, that the people whom he listens to are big business and the wealthy and not the average guy,'' says Charles Black, a key adviser to the committee, who has been involved in all of Mr. Reagan's political campaigns.
Even many Americans who support Reagan think he has tilted too much toward people in the upper-income brackets, says Mr. Black. This suggests that the President's political operatives ''have not done a good job'' of conveying the true situation. And that situation, in Reaganite eyes, is: (1) that domestic social spending has actually increased under the Reagan presidency; (2) that every individual has received a tax cut; and (3) that, despite still-high unemployment, many have gotten jobs.
Economic recovery, in fact, will be the centerpiece of the Reagan reelection platform, says Black, who is with the consulting firm of Black, Manafort, and Stone. Assuming the recovery runs well in 1984, the overall GOP strategy will be to have the President run on his record.
In the area of foreign policy, it is recognized that some of Reagan's actions - in Central America and Lebanon especially - may pose election vulnerabilities. Some unexpected development, moreover, could have a dominant impact just before the election, as the Iranian hostage crisis did in 1980. The President, it is felt, must talk about what he has accomplished for the United States economy, avoid controversy in the international domain, and present the case that he is doing ''what is right'' for the country even if some policies are unpopular.
At the same time, campaign advisers are focusing on rebuilding the 1980 Reagan coalition. Current thinking, according to Black, runs along these lines:
Labor: In the face of major union endorsements of Walter F. Mondale, Reagan's strategy will be to go directly to the rank and file. Reagan received almost 50 percent of the union-member vote in 1980 and, with the economy ticking along, he should hold his support.
The President's fervid anticommunism and hard-line stand against the Soviet Union should also appeal to labor. And a special effort will be made to court the Roman Catholic vote on such issues as family values, abortion, prayer in the schools, and tuition-tax credits.
Also, while Mr. Mondale has won the support of the huge AFL-CIO, Reagan is expected to receive some labor endorsements of his own - from the Teamsters, the International Longshoremen's Association, and others.
Blacks: It is recognized that blacks as a whole have not gained under the Reagan presidency. But Reagan can address that 40 percent of black families in the middle-income range who have registered some progress. The Republicans cannot expect to offset what is expected to be a modest increase in Democratic registrations, but it is not thought this will hurt Reagan much, as he received less than 10 percent of the black vote in 1980.
Women: The ''gender gap'' is seen as an overblown issue. According to GOP polling, the real gap is a ''marriage gap.'' Thus, in 1980 Reagan received his strongest support from married men, then married women, then single men, and - lastly - single women.
Therefore, says Mr. Black, campaign strategy ought to be aimed at single men, who have been exposed to more economic stress and now are better off.
Conservatives: New Right leaders based in Washington have been unhappy with Reagan on such issues as the shootdown of the Korean airliner. But this poses a problem for Reagan only if he is rejected by rank-and-file conservatives. Grass-roots conservatives, it is felt, do not always follow the views of the Washington leaders.
No problem has developed yet over conservatives working for Reagan's reelection, says Black. Reagan may not be the ideal right-wing candidate, but he's still far more acceptable than the Democratic contenders.
''Next year, Richard Viguerie will be in pitching, too,'' comments Black, referring to the ultraconservative editor of the Conservative Digest.
In dealing with the fairness issue, strategists hope to have Reagan speaking more and more to blue-collar audiences, stressing the improvement in the economy , and turning around perceptions that agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency pander to big business.
While Reaganites take some satisfaction from the squabbling among Democratic contenders, they are not complacent about a Reagan reelection. The GOP remains a minority party in almost every state which Reagan would need to carry, and some White House policies are not popular.