It's become a two-man race, Ronald Reagan vs. Jimmy Carter. Or so it now seems following impressive Reagan and Carter primary victories in Illinois that indicate they both have become virtually unstoppable.
Rep. John B. Anderson made a good showing in his home state.
But, even should he win in Wisconsin April 1, the Illinois Republican faces a well-nigh impossible task in trying to catch Mr. Reagan. For example, Mr. Anderson is not even on the ballots in New York, Texas, and Pennsylvania.
George Bush now is on the ropes. His weak third-place showing in the Illinois GOP primary may have finished his candidacy.
Mr. Reagan now has nearly 30 percent of the Republican delegates needed for nomination -- and the primaries have yet to move to the West and Far West where the former California governor is expected to be strongest.
Mr. Carter has some 36 percent of the Democratic delegates. According to assessments from both traveling reporters and polls, he seems ahead of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy in primaries and caucuses throughout the United States -- except in New York and washington, D.C., where the races appear about even but where Carter momementum now may give him victories.
A close contest is being projected in New York March 25, with Senator Kennedy at best only splitting the states's 282 delegates with the President.
In Washington, the post-Illinois talk focuses in these areas:
* Will Mr. Anderson become a third-party candidate? The Anderson denials persist. But there is a growing belief in political circles here that he will take this route.
John White, Democratic national chairman, "fears" that Mr. Anderson is so intentioned. Mr. White told a group of reporters over breakfast March 19 that he thought Mr. Anderson might well take enough votes away from the President to give the election to Mr. Reagan.
Mr. White also said that if Senator Kennedy didn't drop out of the race soon he could so embitter his supporters toward Mr. Carter that they would bolt the party next fall and vote for Mr. Anderson.
* Will Mr. Anderson be chosen for the vice-presidential slot on the GOP ticket?
Some observers see Mr. Reagan grabbing Mr. Anderson for his running mate, once again hoping to reach out to Republican moderates and independents by balancing his ticket -- as he did in 1976 when he tapped moderate Sen. Richard S. Schweiker (R) of Pennsylvania in a last-ditch effort to broaden his appeal.
But Reagan aides are saying that this time the former California governor will seek only geographical, and not ideological, balance.
One aide recently put it this way:
"Reagan won't play games this time. He'll want to make it clear by his choice for No. 2 that he's reaching out to conservatives. He believes there's a conservative trend running -- and he thinks he can win by appealing to that trend."
* Are some Democratic state chairmen initiating a move to try to get Senator Kennedy to step out of the race?
When asked about this, Mr. White said he had heard that the effort was under way but that he did not know how many democratic leaders were involved.
* Will Ronald reagan be a formidable opponent for Mr. Carter? "He'll be tough to beat," says Mr. White. When asked to cite Mr. Reagan's assets, the Democratic national chairman said:
"Reagan's a stylist. He handles himself extremely well on television. He's articulate. He was the governor of a major state with no major problems that we can nail him on."