Longer-range election concerns perplex President Carter's campaign strategists, even while he continues to rack up delegate victories over Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.
In the shorter view, Mr. Carter's 2-to-1 delegate lead for the Democratic nomination looks convincing. With nearly half the delegates chosen, the President counts 968 delegates for himself, 463 for Senator Kennedy, with 61 uncommitted.
In Louisiana's primary on Saturday (April 5), Mr. Carter again whipped Senator Kennedy, 39 to 12, in the delegate take.
But more broadly seen, Mr. Kennedy's refusal to read the numbers on the wall and quit points up several vulnerabilities on the President's re-election ledger , while creating others.
The Carter people worry about Senator Kennedy's decision to stay in for reasons quite apart from losing the delegate race by June 3.
Mr. Kennedy's persistence is delaying fund-raising and state organizational efforts that must be in place soon for a general election victory, Carter strategists say.
A platform battle, plus a confrontation over the binding of delegates at the convention itself, could turn the party's mid-August convention into the kind of free-for-all that would help assure a Republican win in November, Carter people acknowledge.
The Kennedy forces anticipate enough convention strength to mount a potent platform-shaping drive. Pre-convention platform hearings already have begun, with the next session scheduled for Baltimore April 10 and 11. The early Carter-DNC strategy is to "defuse" the potential for conflict later by orchestrating a broad-range discussion in early platform-making stages.
Carter-Mondale campaign workers and Democratic National Committee (DNC) officials were all set to start general election campaign fund raising the week of March 25, anticipating a knockout win by the president in the New York and Connecticut primaries.
"We need to start raising money for the state campaigns by April 15," says one Carter strategist. "But with Kennedy still in, we're not going to be able to. We'll lose the general election if Kennedy is still with us in July."
The Carter worry is over raising the $15 million to $18 million the Democrats will need for the state campaigns -- over and above the $29 million the candidate gets in federal funds, the $4.7 million that can be raised by the Democratic National Committee, and another $3 million that can be spent in compliance costs.
There are no limits on what state party organizations can spend for voter-registration and get-out-the-vote efforts, and for campaign materials. But Democratic state and local planning and voter-education drives will have to be launched soon to get the $1 million-plus-a-week rate of return needed to offset a likely Republican fund-raising advantage if the GOP wraps up its nomination soon, Carter campaign officials say.
Outside the campaign, the sweep of national issues has begun to crowd Mr. Carter. Recession tremors have begun to follow the inflation seige in the economy. Midwest farmers are increasingly unhappy over the Soviet grain embargo , as US grain prices sag and other nations move in to supply grain to the USSR. Spokesmen for the nation's cities are critical of White House budget decisions. Many Olympic athletes are balking at the Moscow Games embargo, setting the stage for bitter moments when the Olympic Games are staged this summer.
Politically, the President faces a strong thrust by likely Republican nominee Ronald Reagan on Mr. Carter's home turf -- Dixie. While Carter was beating Kennedy 3-1 in delegates in Louisiana April 5, Mr. Reagan was making a clean sweep of that state's 29 Republican delegates.
Like Mr. Carter, former California Governor Reagan's early delegate momentum was chiefly set in the South. At this stage, with 45 percent of the GOP delegates chosen, 168 of Reagan's 427 are in the South, 135 in the East, 124 in the Midwest, and none in the West.Mr. Carter counts 382 delegates in the South, 323 in the Midwest, 208 in the East, and 54 in the West.
The Dixie home-turf advantage that is helping the President trounce Mr. Kennedy early-on may count for less against Mr. Reagan.
Then, too, another Republican, John Anderson, has been raising money so quickly from progressive voter sources that he is being urged to consider running as an independent in November, despite the practical arguments against winning such a race. An Anderson "third party" effort could absorb independent and liberal Democratic votes in crucial states where Mr. Carter's margin might be thin.