The man who almost tipped the presidential election balance to Gerald Ford in 1976 says John B. Anderson may send the scales reeling to Ronald Reagan this time around.
But Eugene J. McCarthy, who spent 22 years in Congress and ran for President in 1968 and 1976, says Congressman Anderson will hate to get at least 12 million votes to do it -- some 11 million more than Mr. McCarthy got four years ago.
Even with just under a million votes in 1976, some political analysts say that Mr. McCarthy cost Jimmy Carter four states and that had he run in a fifth, new York, Gerald Ford would be President.
In an interview with the Monitor, however, the former Democratic senator from Minnesota said this popular theory exaggerated his political leverage in 1976. But Mr. McCarthy believes today's independent candidate, Mr. Anderson, will be a much greater factor "if Anderson holds up in the pools."
A Louis Harris poll published this week shows the Illinois congressman favored by 29 percent of voters, President Carter by 31 Percent, and Mr. Reagan by 35 percent.
"He looks like he's going to do better than I did," Mr. McCarthy says. "but he's really just picked up the ideas the liberal Democrats have had around. I don't see anything particularly fresh in Anderson, I encourage him to run. I say it's a good idea. There ought to be a challenge to the two-party system."
Ironically, Mr. Mccarthy added rather ruefully, "Anderson attacked me in 1976 , saying I was denigrating the Two party system by running as an independent. He said that we were perpetuating a myth on the American people in suggesting people wanted to vote for an independent or a third party. Anderson also appeared before the US Supreme Court as 'a friend of the Federal Election Campaign Act' when I was challenging it in that court. But he's learned his lesson, I guess.
"Third party candidates suffer all the limitations under the act and get none of the benefits, plus they have no representation on the Federal Elections Commission. You can'T have more than three persons from any one party. It's a six-man coalition. If the act read that the commission could have no more than two people from each party it would be much better. Now, the independents have no representation on the commission."
But even if the Anderson campaign does not end up depriving President Carter of vital votes, Mr. McCarthy feels strongly that the independent candidate will be "paving the way" not only for greater participation by independents, but for reform of the Campaign Act itself.
Mr. McCarthy, who supported California Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. before the later dropprf out of the Democratic race, indicated he would not actively support anyone still in the running.But he does "strongly endorse" Mr. Anderson's right to run.