Carter looking for home run in Dixie primaries
Atlanta — Inning 1 of the presidential nomination process was the Iowa caucuses. Inning 2 will be the Feb. 26 New Hampshire primary (closely followed by the Massachusetts and Vermont primaries March 4).
Inning 3 will feature four important primaries in the Southeast -- South Carolina (Republicans only) March 8; Georgia, Alabama, Florida March 11. This inning is likely to narrow the still-crowded Republican field and give President Carter another big boost toward renomination.
Here's how knowledgeable sources in the two major parties see the situation in the Southeast:
Ronald Reagan currently is way out in front, but even among party regulars there is not much enthusiasm for him. John Connally, although campaigning hard, does not seem to be gaining ground at this time.
Much of Mr. Reagan's conservative support could be simply due to name recognition. Now that George Bush has much greater recognition, thanks to his win in the Iowa caucuses, he could begin to pick up some of the Reagan support, say some GOP spokesmen.
The open Republican primary in South Carolina, in which independents and Democrats can vote, could bring in more support for Mr. Bush or Sen. Howard H. Baker Jr., says a Republican Party official there.
With the exception of South Carolina, where he has some organization and has done some campaigning, Senator Baker is not expected to do well in the Southeastern states. And a poor showing by Mr. Connally, once seen as a formidable opponent for Mr. Reagan in the South, could seriously damage his chances.
On the Democratic side, President Carter is expected to sweep the Alabama, Georgia, and Florida primaries.
The Kennedy organization is just getting started in Georgia and appears to be in some in disarray in Florida. In Alabama, there is a somewhat more visible Kennedy effort -- but among blacks, the key target for the Kennedy forces, important leaders, including the Mayor of Birmingham, are lining up behind Mr. Carter.
Here is what is happening in each of the four Southeastern primary states:
South Carolina. A lot of people may look at [George Bush] like a younger Reagan," says Republican state party chairman Daniel Ross Jr. "I think he'll run well in this state if he campaigns hard." But little time is left before the March 8 primary to gain on the clear leader, Mr. Reagan.
Florida. After his Iowa loss, if Mr. Reagan does not do well in New England his support will be seen as "soft" in Florida, boosting chances for the other Republicans, says state GOP chairman William Taylor.
Mr. Carter is expected to hold on to the more than 3-to-1 margin he had over Senator Kennedy in the Democratic Party's statewide straw poll last fall.
Georgia. The President's home state is seen as likely to give him a landslide win.
Mr. Bush could gain on Mr. Reagan and Mr. Connally if he campaigns hard here, says Republican state chairman Matt Patton. Again, time is a key factor.
Alabama. President Carter's recent nomination of two blacks to federal judgeships appears to have been the deciding factor in gaining him the crucial support of Birmingham's black Mayor, Richard Arrington Jr. Mr. Reagan is seen as the Republican leader, followed distantly by Mr. Connally and then Mr. Bush. But Mr. Bush is said to be gaining support faster than the other two candidates.