In a Valley Forge test of political will, the struggling but dogged campaigns of Democrat Edward M. Kennedy and Republican George Bush have encamped in Pennsylvania for the next three weeks.
Their hope: to wage a damaging stand, if not a comeback, against front-runners Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan in the Keystone State's April 22 primary, with 1980's third-largest delegate tally at stake.
Of the front-runners, Mr. Carter appears the more vulnerable. Pennsylvania is crucial to him both for the primary and the general election. This November linkage has his Pennsylvania troops longing for an appearance by the President in at least a bordering state -- perhaps New York, where the primary has already been held, or Ohio, where the primary is not until June 3.
Senator Kennedy -- with strong support among Pennsylvania blacks, from the unions, and in the working-class strongholds of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Erie -- hopes to weaken the President in a state Mr. Carter narrowly won in 1976 .
Mr. Reagan's appeal to blue-collar voters in a state whose economy is in recession, with failing factories and financially stressed cities, could prove devastating in the fall, Mr. Carter's supporters say.
The Wisconsin and Kansas results April 1 clearly disappointed the two maverick candidates of 1980. Republican John B. Anderson, who is not even on the Pennsylvania ballot, was third in Wisconsin -- where he had counted on a win. Democrat Edmund G. Brown Jr. came in eight points beneath the 20 percent he needed in Wisconsin to reinstate his federal campaign funding -- forcing him to quit before Pennsylvania, though his name will be on the ballot there.
But closer rivals Bush and Kennedy, fight still in them, are digging in for big Pennsylvania efforts.
Mr. Bush, respectably second to Mr. Reagan in Wisconsin, sees Pennsylvania as his first one-on-one test against the front-runner. He will focus on the "beauty contest" (nonbinding popular vote) part of the ballot. In the separate delegate-slate balloting, called "blind" because candidate preferences are not indicated after delegate names, the Reagan people claim they are likely to win at least 48 of Pennsylvania's 83 convention seats.
So confident is Mr. Reagan of his delegate edge there that he plans to spend only two days in Pennsylvania, focusing instead on Texas.
Senator Kennedy's 2-to-1 loses to the President in Wisconsin and Kansas on Tuesday left him still without a win in the Midwest. But, earlier, he had only a week to recoup from his Illinois humiliation before stunning Mr. Carter in New York and Connecticut, his people say. And the senator has three weeks to work Pennsylvania and add to his Eastern regional edge over the President.
The Carter camp apparently no longer expects Mr. Kennedy to buckle and quit, despite the senator's lagging delegate effort. The Kennedy people say they will not quit even if they lose in Pennsylvania.
"I don't think there will be a coup de grace here," says Terry Straub, Carter-Mondale coordinator for Pennsylvania. "Kennedy has survived each of his must-win disappointments before -- in Iowa, Illinois, and New Hampshire -- and he's still in it.
"Three weeks can be a lifetime in this nomination business," Mr. Straub says. "This is a good state traditionally for the Kennedys. It has a large Catholic vote.
"Right now we're probably even [with Kennedy] among voters, or a little behind. But that will change dramatically, maybe two or three times, before April 22."
Mr. Straub says the Carter plan for Pennsylvania will be to turn the focus on SEnator Kennedy. "In New York, Carter was caught in the crosscurrents of the UN vote, Iran, the economic issue," Mr. Straub says. "Carter was the factor. Our intention -- maybe for the first time in the campaign -- will be to hold Kennedy accountable on the issues."
The Pennsylvania contest is likely to be affected more by outside events than the candidates' own efforts, Mr. Straub says. "The greatest impact on this campaign comes every night on the 6:30 news," he says.
Still, the organizational effort now in Pennsylvania could prove decisive for Mr. Carter's hopes for the fall.
"Carrying the state in November is crucial for us," Mr. Straub says. "We must leave a legacy of political structure alive after the primary, for a head start in August and September. In 1976 we had to start anew after the convention. Any Democratic candidate who loses Pennsylvania in November will be hard pressed to win the election."