The George Bush "victory" plan now is being put together. Ronald Reagan will probably call it a "last-gasp" strategy. But, in any event, the central element of this Bush attempt to pull victory out of the jaws of defeat is to throw $1 million and an all-out effort into trying to win the 168 delegates available in the June 3 California primary.
In outlining the plan to the Monitor, Mr. Bush's campaign manager, Jim Baker, said:
"We honestly think we can still take this nomination away from Reagan, but we have to take the winner-take-all California primary to do it.
"Sure, we know the polls show us way behind in California. But on April 1 the Teeter poll showed us behind Reagan 61 to 31 in Pennsylvania. Yet we went on to win on April 22, 54 to 46. And how? By concentrating heavy Bush on-the-scene campaigning in four major Pennsylvania cities -- Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Scranton, and Harrisburg.
"Bush had these citizens' press conferences -- taking any question that came along. They stirred up widespread interest and support. TV in those areas used a lot of it.
"And Bush won. We'll follow the same plan in California. We spent about $1 million in Pennsylvania, and we'll do that in California now."
Other aspects of the Bush "California plan" to derail Reagan:
* Mr. Reagan already has spent most of what he is allowed to under federal law in the presidential primaries. Even if he can raise enough to stem a tide in Mr. Bush's direction, should it occur, the effort could be stopped short by the spending ceiling.
* Mr. Reagan now has 592 delegates (according to the United Press International count). Of the 1,994 convention delegates, the Bush people say about 52 percent are not legally bound to stay with Mr. Reagan or any candidate. Says Mr. Baker: "If we can get close to Reagan [Bush now has 119 delegates], we expect to be able to take a lot of those delegates away from him. It's much easier to do this at the Republican convention than at the Democratic convention -- the rules make it easier."
* Also a necessary ingredient in having a chance at winning in California is a Bush victory in the May 20 Michigan primary. "We think we can do it," Mr. Baker says. "And we think we can win Oregon, too. But Michigan is a 'must.' If we can move into the California election with a Michigan victory behind us -- and, hopefully, an Oregon victory, too -- it will set the stage for winning all those delegates in California and also embarrassing Reagan in his home state."
Mr. Bush's target state primaries now in his final dash to try to stage a comeback are Michigan and Oregon on May 20 and New Jersey, Ohio, and California on June 3. "If we win these states, or most of them," Mr. Baker says, "we will win the nomination. But we have to win California."
Mr. Baker says that 259 of the 592 delegates Mr. Reagan now has are "unbound" and available to be won over. He lists the following "unbound" Reagan delegates: Alaska, 19; Arkansas, 9; Georgia, 36; New York, 95; North Dakota, 12; Pennsylvania, 34; Illinois, 45; Minnesota, 9.
"Watch those 95 delegates in New York get nervous if we beat Reagan in California," Mr. Baker says.
The Bush people concede that they are far behind Mr. Reagan in California. Says Mr. Baker: "We're probably 70 to 25 behind -- maybe 74 to 22, or worse. But if we can go into California with some momentum [out of Michigan and maybe Oregon], and if we can give Bush a great deal of exposure in California's major cities -- we think we can turn it around."
"How about the $1 million?" Mr. Baker was asked. "Can you raise it?"
"We can raise it," he said. "All we have to do is raise about $600,000 and the rest of the $1 million will come from matching funds."
"And how about the Texas primary on May 3?" Mr. Baker was asked. "We seem to be behind there," he said, "but winning Texas isn't a part of our victory plan. We don't have to win there to make the plan work."