Republican presidential candidates have one thing in common: No one, at this point, wants to be called teh "front-runner." Ronald Reagan indicated he felt his consolation prize in Iowa was that he was no longer burdened with that accolade.
And now George Bush is resisting this kind of rating with all his might.
Mr. Bush's campaign manager, James Baker, insists that his candidate must win a few more contests, particularly in New Hampshire but also in the South before he will deserve the front-runner label.
Mr. Baker says that Mr. Reagan is well positioned to win in New Hampshire -- that the Californian has a 27 to 30 percent solid support among Granite State Republicans.
Further, James Baker says that Sen. Howard H. Baker Jr. "will cut much more into the Bush vote than [Rep. Philip M.] Crane will into Reagan."
He sees Senator Baker making a strong New Hampshire bid -- "with a very good organization (the one Gerald Ford had in 1976) and with a stronger effort on his part."
Campaign manager Baker, talking with reporters over breakfast Tuesday, expressed these additional views:
* He says Mr. Bush "wants to debate in New Hampshire" and thinks there will be a debate there. cWe don't want to debate Reagan on his turf -- in the south, " he adds.
* He sees the Republicans in a "fourman race now" -- Reagan, Bush, Baker, and [John] Connally." He says that Connally has not been eliminated but that "he must win in South Carolina" if he is to stay in.
"We're going into South Carolina," Mr. Baker says, "and we do expect to beat Seanator Baker there."
He adds: "Baker said in his announcement that one reason he should be the nominee is that one reason he should be the nominee is that he could win in the South. _e intend to show him that he can't win there,"
* He says that "Bush sees his CIA background as a tremendous plus." He added that "polls show that 72 percent of Americans feel we should strengthen the CIA so that we will know what the Soviets are doing."
* He said that Mr. Bush was in a much better position than was President Ford four years ago in taking on Mr. Reagan, "Bush is not an incumbent president where he can be blamed for all of the public's dissatisfaction."
* He said he thought Senator Kennedy's speech of Monday "might help him among the liberals" but that it would not help the Massachusetts senator "among voters in the mainstream."
* He said of Bush aspirations for New Hampshire: "We'd like to come in a good second to Reagan." But he would not rule out the possibility that Mr. Bush might win that primary. And when reporters laughingly suggested he was purposely badmouthing his prospects so as to look better when the vote returns came in, Mr. Baker said, laughing himself, "I honestly feel this way about it."
* He said that his old friend Gerald Ford (Mr. Baker was Mr. ford's campaign manager in 1976) had in no way changed his position on running -- that he would only get in the race if the party came to him.