One week remains before Kansas holds its first presidential preference primary. Political analysts in the Sunflower State agree that the Carter and Reagan juggernauts are likely to sweep through the state as they have in most of the preceding primaries.
"Reagan and Carter are holding down first base," says one political analyst in Topeka, the capital."Reagan was strong here four years ago and much of his old organization remains. Kennedy has never gone over big here. And nothing has happened new to make him look any stronger to most Kansas Democrats."
"I think Reagan will dominate the GOP race," says Earl A. Nevhring, chairman of the political science department at the University of Kansas. "I presume President Carter will run strongly. Kennedy's campaign here is pro forma.m He's not the kind of person that appeals to Kansas Democrats."
So far, no statewide polls have been conducted to give hints of the relative strength of each of the candidates.
Only one person could be found who would cite any tally -- an official with a Democratic candidate's campaign in Topeka. The survey was conducted by the owner of two Topeka doughnut shops. At last report, President Carter was an 8 -to-1 favorite over Senator Kennedy among the city's dunkers. George Bush and John B. Anderson were tied for a distant second behind Ronald Reagan.
Despite the dearth of statewide surveys, one state Democratic official pointed to the March 18 Illinois primary as an indication of how well the President should do against his Massachusetts rival in the race for the 37 Kansas delegates to the Democratic National Convention.
"Carter will do as well as, if not better than, he did in Illinois," this official said. "Kansas Democrats are much like those found in 'downstate' Illinois," where Mr. Carter captured 69 percent of the vote to Mr. Kennedy's 28 percent.
As for GOP front-runner Reagan, political observers in Kansas point to his formidable organization, built on foundations remaining after his try for the Republican nomination in 1976.
This organization, observers say, is doing a good job of packing supporters into that part of the state's political process that will choose people to go to the Republican National Convention in Detroit as "uncommitteds," based on the results of the primary.
Reagan campaign officials reason that if they can send pro-Reagan people to the national convention as uncommitteds, after the first ballot those uncommitteds will be free to throw their support behind the former California governor.
The withdrawal from the race of native son Robert Dole, and Gerald Ford's announcement that he would not run for the presidency, have released their respective supporters to the remaining Republican candidates, who are vying for the state's 32 delegates to the national convention.
Observers expect Mr. Anderson and Mr. Bush to split the pickings among Mr. Ford's supporters.
So far, Senator Dole has not endorsed any of the remaining GOP candidates. However, he has called Mr. Anderson the brightest candidate running in either party, and this leads some analysts to believe that Mr. Anderson will pick up a goodly number of Dole backers.
But others disagree, saying that during the 1976 general election campaign, vice-presidential candidate Dole was the bridge between President Ford and Mr. Reagan. Thus, they expect much of Mr. Dole's supporters to drift into the Reagan camp.
All of these assessments are made with the caveat that the state's large bloc of "unaffiliated" (independent) voters could significantly affect the outcome of the election.
The last certified report (as of this writing) of voter registration in Kansas showed that of 1,142,820 registered voters, 386,289 are Republicans and 301,295 are Democrats. This leaves 455,236 voters, the vast majority of whom are registered as unaffiliated, says a spokesman for the secretary of state's office. Under the rules of the primary, these voters declare their preference only when they show up at the polls and select a ballot.
One of those who keep a sharp eye on the independents is Carter-Mondale state campaign director Dave Doak.
"How much will John Anderson drain the independent vote? That's the big question," he says. He adds that if Mr. Anderson -- who has received several newspaper endorsements in the state -- does make significant inroads into the independent vote, it could be at the President's expense.
"Anderson will be the real wild card in this race," he says.
The Kansas primary allows no crossover voting. But several observers note that there was a flurry of last-minute activity as the March 11 registration deadline approached. Much of that, they say, is because of interest in the new primary. But they add that some of that 11th-hour activity resulted from voters shifting their party affiliation to either the unaffiliated or the GOP column.
"I noticed some movement to the GOP," Mr. Doak says.
If they were western [Kansas] farmers who voted for the President in 1976, that could hurt the Carter effort, he says. "But it also could work against Kennedy if the switches were made by liberals who see Kennedy going nowhere and want to vote for Anderson."