Washington — The Winsconsin primary, which has made and broken presidential candidates in the past, could figure heavily in both the Democratic and Republican races. Should the "unthinkable" happen -- that is, should Sen. Edward M. Kennedy upset President Carter -- it would give the senator a fresh burst of momentum.
A Milwaukee Journal poll last Sunday (March 23) showed Mr. Carter way out front with 61 percent of the Democratic vote in Wisconsin. Senator Kennedy was far back with 11 and California Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. had 10. Fourteen percent were undecided.
But the political experts in Wisconsin say that Senator Kennedy's surprising wins in New York and Connecticut, as one said, "make it a whole new ball game here."
While a Carter win is still forecast, it now seems likely that Senator Kennedy could make it a close race.
Again, as in the New York and Connecticut contests, the upsurge for the senator here is really more anti-Carter than anything else.
The big issue, as elsewhere, is soaring inflation -- and it appears that the voters are ready to tell Mr. Carter how unhappy they are about rising prices when they go to the polls on Tuesday (April 1).
Senator Kennedy, by making only two appearances in Wisconsin -- this weekend -- is taking the position that he is bypassing that primary, so that he can minimize damage it he is beaten badly.
By his small campaigning effort here the senator also sets the stage to profit greatly should he come close to Mr. Carter -- particularly if he scores an upset win.
Wisconsin has often played an important role in the making of the presidents of the past. The 1960 primary clinched the nomination for John F. Kennedy.
On the eve of the Wisconsin primary in 1968, in which Sen. Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota was the favorite to win, President Johnson bowed out of the race.
In 1972, George McGovern's Wisconsin victory provided a strong push toward the nomination.
And in 1976, Jimmy Carter won by a hair over Morris K. Udall, gaining the momentum he needed to eventually defeat the Arizona congressman for the nomination.
Governor Brown has been campaigning hard in Wisconsin and should take votes away from Senator Kennedy. Other librals, who might have voted for the senator will be crossing over to vote in the GOP primary for Rep. John B. Anderson.
So a Kennedy loss would be expected. Should the senator win despite all of these problems, it would be a mighty upset, perhaps enough to seriously damage the Carter campaign.
On the Republican side, the results could be quite interesting, though unlikely to significantly slow the drive of Ronald Reagan for the nomination. A recent Milwaukee Journal poll gave the former California governor the lead, with former UN ambassador George Bush tied for second several percentage points behind.
A big crossover of Democrats might bring about a John Anderson victory.
At this point, a strong second-place finish is about all Mr. Bush can hope for. But should he come up with a surprise victory, it could breathe new life into the flagging Bush campaign.