What Mondale now must do

Godfrey Sperling Jr. is the Monitor's senior Washington columnist. Walter Mondale is being urged, by political associates outside his inner circle, to recast his campaign strategy and to make major organizational changes so he will have a chance of staging a comeback.

* They are telling him not to harbor hopes that his running mate can again become the driving force of his campaign.

The public's perception of Geraldine Ferraro, in the wake of her problems with financial disclosures, remains an imponderable - Mr. Mondale must now play the lead role and play it well.

* And they are telling Mr. Mondale that he simply must bring in some highly regarded public figure or politician to head his top advisory group - someone widely recognized for experience in campaigns and for political savvy. The name of Robert Strauss keeps popping up.

This advice seems good and very timely - although it is arguable that the Mondale cause is past saving. He will need to do something that will capture the attention - and support - of the public at large if he is to turn this contest around.

At the moment he is on the defensive. The Republicans are saying - and people are listening - that he is the candidate of ''fear'' and of ''big spending.'' They say as president he would lead the nation backward to the bad old days of Carter-Mondale.

What the Republicans succeeded in doing, at a rather bland convention, was to pin negative tags on Mr. Mondale. As of this moment ''liberalism'' and ''Mondale the liberal'' aren't being rated too highly in public perception.

Somehow, Mondale must get back to where his campaign stood - very much on the rise - immediately following the Democratic convention and before hiring and firing Bert Lance.

Parenthetically, one of the most heard quips in Dallas was that the Republicans intentionally scheduled a dull convention so as not to take the spotlight away from Ms. Ferraro and her husband's financial disclosures.

Ms. Ferraro, in her spunky press conference performance, may have closed that chapter. But the dust must yet settle before we know if she has satisfied her critics as well as a press that seems to like nothing better than to probe for possible misconduct on the part of politicians.

There is one thing that might work for the Minnesotan. Walter Mondale could put together some TV fireside-chats with the public in which he reveals the kind of America he would shape if he became president. These could not be pedestrian speeches. An Adlai Stevenson could do it. So could a Mario Cuomo.

Mondale would need to think deeply on how he would make this country better - then work closely with a superb speech writer. Even then his oratorical talents may be too limited to lift such speeches to the place where he would suddenly win over a vast TV audience. But it might happen.

Mondale does not yet need the lead in the polls but he needs something that will take him off the defensive and on the upturn again. Then if he could wangle not one or two but several debates with Reagan, he might show a lot of voters - as John F. Kennedy showed in the debates with Richard M. Nixon - that he has the ''right stuff.''

Those watching the Republican show in Dallas came away pretty much convinced that Ronald Reagan is heading for another win - very likely a landslide. But veteran reporters have learned - often from their own wrong predictions - that unpredictability is the norm in political campaigns. Thus, to those who now are saying that Mondale could never win, there is an answer in the trade of political correspondents that says, simply, ''Never say never.''

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