Back to even

The Democratic nomination race is back to even. It's not so much that Gary Hart's surge has been stopped after Super Tuesday as that the next round shifts back to the industrial Midwest - Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota - where Walter Mondale can credibly claim a potential countersurge. Then it will be on to the big states in the East - New York, Pennsylvania.

What we are seeing with the voting public so far is a game of even-up. Mondale ahead through Iowa, then Hart in New England, a split in the South this week on Super Tuesday. The front-runners could trade off week-to-week successes in a pattern reminiscent of 1980 between Jimmy Carter and Ted Kennedy.

At the moment, the Democratic equation is still Hart's advantage in victories , media, and momentum, against Mondale's advantage in organization and delegates. While Hart won three of the five primaries on Tuesday, Mondale claims to have come out with the larger number of convention votes.

Hart's major assertion is that, by winning in all regions so far, he is demonstrating the greater ability to campaign nationwide. And while people voting for Hart say they would have problems voting for Mondale in a general election, the reverse is not true. That is, Hart has greater appeal among independents who are troubled by Mondale's links to labor and the Democratic past and will emphasize the general election picture against Reagan in coming weeks.

Mondale boasts he has slowed, if not stopped Hart. His campaign says Mondale won 215 delegates Tuesday night to Hart's 198. Hart counters that his own total would be higher if Reubin Askew's Florida delegates, committed to Hart, were added in. To date, Mondale claims 345 delegates, leaving Hart 236, John Glenn 30 , Jesse Jackson 35, George McGovern 13, Askew 29, and another 43 uncommitted or undetermined.

So the jockeying for the appearance of advantage goes.

What remains to be seen is how well Gary Hart will do among blacks in the North. In Alabama, according to exit polls, the black vote split almost exactly between Jesse Jackson and Mondale, leaving a scant 1 percent for Hart. Mondale's advantage in the South, a link into the black church network, might not hold for him in the North. Michigan, with half the state's caucuses held in union halls, should go strongly for Mondale this Saturday. But in Illinois Mondale, too, could have problems with minorities, having picked the losing horse in Chicago's recent race-dominated mayoral contest. The following week, heavily independent Connecticut could favor Hart.

So far, Glenn, insisting he is the only moderate in the race, has not been able to establish himself as an alternative to either Mondale or Hart in any contest. Jackson did well enough to at least keep the federal funds coming in for another week.

The public increasingly seems to be playing off regional delegate contests against the national campaign backboard. If it wants to make the candidates work for the nomination, the delegate race could prove close enough to carry all the way to the party's San Francisco convention in July. The rules-challenge dueling that marked the 1980 and earlier party conventions could make for a lively time of it.

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