N.Y. primaries: must for Kennedy, muddle for GOP

While the New York State Democratic presidential primary March 25 is emerging as pivotal for Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, the two-way Republican race is more confusing to some voters than the old Abbot and Costello baseball routine, "who's on first."

Registered Republicans must vote for delegates in their congressional districts who are pledged to specific candidates. But the delegates' names are not listed on the ballot under the names of the respective candidates. In fact, the names of the only two Republicans still in the GOP race in New York -- George Bush and Ronald Reagan -- are not even on the ballot. (In most other states and in the New York Democratic primary those who go to the polls will vote directly for the presidential candidates.)

In fact, while President Carter's supportters are proclaiming that they will best Senator Kennedy so decisively here that he will drop out of the race, backers of Republicans Reagan and Bush have their hands full just trying to explain to voters which delegates to vote for.

For instance, in the 11th Congressional District (Brooklyn and a small section of Queens), the Reagan delegates are Vito Battista, Diane Rudiano, and Frank Siclari. The Bush delegates are Frank Alberti, Mary DiTrapan, and James Sullivan. With the exception of Mr. Battista, who is the Brooklyn County Republican leader, the other names are unknown to most voters in the district -- are the task of making them known is a big one.

"One of the things we have to do is get these people to become almost household names," says Enid Borden, a Reagan campaign staffer. But she admits the task is almost impossible. For one thing, putting the delegates on television would be too costly and would reach too wide an audience, she notes, since Republicans in other congressional districts won't care who the 11th District delegates are. The Bush forces also are scratching their heads for new ways to get the word out on "who's for who."

Both camps will rely chiefly on handing out thousands of leaflets identifying the delegates pledged to their candidates.

New York State will send 123 Republican delegates to the national convention in Detroit. Seventy of these are technically "uncommitted" -- that is, they are running unopposed in their congressional districts and represent neither Mr. Bush nor Mr. Reagan. Another 47 will be committed to one of the two men based on the primary results, while still another six will be delegates-at-large.

At present, as many political analysts observe the race, Mr. Reagan's delegates have the overwhelming edge in New York City, where the Republican organizations in four of the five counties have come out for the former California governor. Michael Roth, a spokesman for the Bush campaign, says his candidate would be happy to get as many as 15 New York City delegates.

On the other hand, the 70 uncommitted delegates, generally from upstate regions, may swing to support Mr. Bush. These delegates are heavily influenced by the New York State Republican leadership, which includes state Senate majority leader Warren Anderson.

On the Democratic side, the state will have 282 delegates at the national convention in New York City. President Carter has a commanding lead in the race , according to the polls. All the state's Democratic mayors, including those of New York, Yonkers, Albany, and Syracuse, have announced their support of the President.

Senator Kennedy, in a last-ditch effort to swing some urban support his way, came to New York City March 5 to announce his own urban policy to some 400 area businessmen. But his reception at the Hilton Hotel could best be described as "cordial," rather than enthusiastic.

The senator called for a federal takeover of the welfare burdens of cities and lambasted the Carter administration for not following through on its promise of nearly three years ago to help rejuvenate the South Bronx, one of the nation's worst slums.

But, according to community leaders, many of the state's nearly 3 million registered Democrats consider social issues such as the South Bronx to be eclipsed almost entirely by economic ones, mainly inflation.

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