California has some good news for John anderson -- news that spells trouble for Jimmy Carter. Although the bulk of the state's Republican Party remains solidly behind former Gov. Ronald Reagan, recent polls show that the independent Anderson bid for the presidency is gaining ground here -- at President Carter's expense.
Political observers still agree that the Illinois representative's battle will be uphill all the way. It's "an incredible long shot," says one.
But as Anderson workers shift their attention from California's June 3 primary to a drive to gather 101,377 signatures by Aug. 8 to get their candidate on the ballot here, there are signs that Mr. Anderson is cutting significantly into Mr. Carter's Democratic base.
According to a Los Angeles Times poll published May 14, a race among the three men would be led by Governor Reagan, at 40 percent, with President Carter and Representative Anderson battling for second, at 28 and 27 percent, respectively.
The impact of Mr. Anderson's bid on the Carter campaign is underscored by the fact that if the congressman were not in the race, according to the poll, Mr. Carter would do substantially better: 43 percent to Mr. Reagan's 47 percent.
(Sen. Edward M. Kennedy did not fare much better than President Carter in the same three-way race. The Times poll found that he would land 29 percent of the vote, just ahead of Mr. Anderson's 26 percent and well behind Mr. Reagan's 39 percent).
Mr. Anderson, whose campaign swing here May 20-21 will be his first appearance in California since announcing his independent bid last month, remains something of unknown to the state's voters. Still, there is a potentially rich harvest here for a candidate who can score well in November. California accounts for 45 electoral votes -- 16.7 percent of the total needed to elect a president.
The Times poll, which found Mr. Anderson doing 7 percent better than in a similar poll taken three weeks earlier, was "very encouraging," says Carolyn Stewart, who is running the candidate's California campaign. "It shows us the support is there."
Mr. Anderson's growing strength dismays Carter strategists, who contend that it is still too early to begin weighing the Anderson factor. Their efforts, they say, are focused on the fast-approaching, neck-and-neck California Democratic primary battle with Senator Kennedy.
But a Carter spokesman admits, "There's no doubt this campaign considers Anderson a problem. He's obviously taking more votes from us than he is from Reagan."
Mr. Anderson's stronghold of support here is much the same as it is elsewhere. His voters tend to come from the ranks of the well-educated, liberals, young, Jewish, and those favoring the Equal Rights Amendment and abortion. As in Massachusetts, students are expected to play an important role in his campaign and, in fact, already have begun organizing on campuses like Stanford, the University of California at Berkeley, and UCLA.
In addition, the representative from Illinois holds a strong appeal for the Hollywood crowd. Among the television and film personalities who have already contributed to his campaign are Norman Lear, Barbra Streisand, Paul Newman, and Mike Farrell and Jamie Farr from the TV series M*A*S*H.
Political observers warn, however, that Mr. Anderson will never get beyond second place if he does not start making inroads into Mr. Reagan's steady Republican base. His support now, they also say, reflects more of an anti-Reagan or anti-Carter sentiment than genuine enthusiasm for the Illinois congressman.
"Whether Anderson can come in first in November depends on whether he appears to the public as a centrist character," says Mervin Field, who conducts the California Poll.
"As it stands now, he makes it increasingly difficult for Carter and enhances Reagan's chances of winning [in California]," Mr. Field says. "But if he can convince the public that he is a new consensus politician, not a spoiler -- that a vote for him is not a vote for anarchy, so to speak -- then in November, the popular vote may be very close."