'It's all over' talk undercuts Kennedy drive
Washington — The repeated pronoucements from the Democratic National Committee that the race for the presidential nomination is "all over" are making it more difficult for Sen. Edward M. Kennedy to launch a comeback.
Evidence is growing that voters in the coming primaries are growing apathetic because they feel that no matter how much they may work for Senator Kennedy -- or against President Carter -- the effort will be fruitless. Thus the senator is finding it increasingly difficult to stir up voter enthusiasm.
Political observers say this growing resistance to what voters see as purposeless primaries probably means the prospects of Mr. Kennedy making impressive showings in important races like California, Ohio, and New Jersey are increasingly dim.
The chief spokesman for this "it's all over" thesis is Democratic national chairman John White. His new deputy, Leslie Francis, echoed the pronouncement May 13 at a breakfast with reporters.
"The mathematics show that the race is over," Mr. Francis says. "Kennedy would have to win more than 75 percent of the delegates in the remaining primaries -- and that just won't happen."
In the Kennedy camp, there is strong resistance to this assessment, which also comes from Carter campaign chairman Robert Strauss. The Kennedy people call this a Carter ploy to help force the senator out of the race. They accuse Mr. White and Mr. Francis of partisanship at a time when they should be keeping the Democratic National Committee in a hands-off, above-the-battle position.
But Mr. White has persisted. "We have to be realistic," he has said. "Carter has won.And that's it. So we must start to gear up for the Carter race against [Ronald] Reagan in the fall. We cannot do otherwise without wasting valuable time."
Mr. Francis, who left the Carter ranks to join the national committee in recent days, is spending much of his time shaping the strategy for the President's re-election bid against Mr. Reagan.
Recently Mr. White told reporters that the first thing Senator Kennedy would do in the unlikely event that he won the nomination would be "to fire me." Mr. Francis acknowledged that the second thing Mr. Kennedy probably would do would be to fire him, too.
Meanwhile, the senator keeps up his all-out pace, outwardly unperturbed over the increased difficulty he finds in trying to convince voters he still might win.
"What does Kennedy think he can get out of this?" asked one observer at the meeting with Mr. Francis. "Why does he keep working so hard?" Then, answering his own question, he said: "I think he's enjoying being the center of things and of knowing he can be influential at the convention. Also, he's doubtless looking ahead. He's campaigning for 1984."