President Carter's campaign strategy now is emerging: * He has not ruled out debate -- but he is leaning against it. He is convinced, after his Iowa victory, that his failure to debate hurt him little if any.
As long as the Afghanistan crisis continues -- and that means as long as the public, too, perceives a crisis -- a debate seems most unlikely.
Furthermore, as viewed by Robert Strauss, the President's top political adviser, Mr. Carter will only campaign if the crisis ebbs.
"The American people are not interested in whether the President campaigns or debates," Mr. Strauss says. "They are only interested in whether he is dealing with the major issues -- and they see him doing that every day."
However, Mr. Strauss, talking to reporters over breakfast Jan. 23, said that the President "will review the situation every 10 days or so." If he later finds he can get away from dealing with the crisis, he may campaign, he said.
But any campaigning, as now envisioned, will be limited and will not include debating.
* The President will continue to talk issues -- and not partisan politics.
He feels that the challenge for the Democratic nomination from Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, thus far at least, has been carried on in a civil fashion -- "tough but not mean, petty, or devisive," Mr. Strauss puts it. Mr. Carter sees no need to sharpen rhetoric in upcoming campaigning, Mr. Strauss says.
* The Carter plan still is an "every state" campaign. Mr. Carter is not even thinking about an early elimination of Senator Kennedy from the race, his top people assert.
Instead, he is setting up organizations and raising money for every primary, and for a contest that would continue right up to the convention.
The Carter prospects, as put forward by Mr. Strauss, "look very good" in New Hampshire, but he adds that the Massachusetts senator still is the favorite there "in his home territory."
There is no doubt the President will go all- out in New Hampshire. "We'll put 20 or 220 workers in New Hampshire," Mr. Strauss says, "whatever is needed." This was his answer to the report that Senator Kennedy would be sending in a large number of "troops" from Massachusetts to help him win in New Hampshire.
* Those around the President feel he no longer has to deal with the so-called "presidential issue" -- critics saying that he isn't a strong leader.
Mr. Strauss says that Mr. Carter's handling of the crises in Iran and Afghanistan "has killed the leadership issue for the campaign.
"His opponents will try to revive the issue," Mr. Strauss says. "But they won't be successful."