Ronald Reagan is counting on the updraft of Republican convention acclaim to lift him to an early 30- to 35-point margin over Jimmy Carter -- matching the Democrat's 1976 post-convention edge in the polls over incumbent Gerald Ford.
Despite troubles within his own campaign and within the party organization, both neutral observers and Reagan supporters see such an early lead for the Republican as likely -- provided Mr. Reagan discloses a "sensible" vice-presidential choice at the July 10-14 convention and makes no public misstep in the meantime. To reduce risks and heighten convention drama, Mr. Reagan will stay largely out of sight until then, and has already canceled a trip abroad.
After the convention high, however, the long-range Reagan forecast anticipates a steady drifting downward -- with Mr. Carter lofted by the mid-August Democratic convention.
By Labor Day, when the serious campaigning begins, the race is expected to be tough, and close.
In the short term, however, Mr. Reagan's compaign is encountering potentially damaging squalls.
Scanning for political espionage bugs began last week at the Republican National Committee (RNC) headquarters, and at the hotel apartment of RNC co-chair Mary Crisp, target of right-wing ERA opponents. The initial bug hunts proved "inconclusive," the RNC says.
But in a Washington wary over how a "routine" burglary at the Democrats' Watergate headquarters eight years ago this week eventually led to a president's ouster in disgrace, the RNC episode will be watched closely.
The suspicion, if not the fact, of RNC bugging is related to two other Reagan tempests -- the campaign's difficulty in finding a political field general to run the 50 separate state contests for electoral votes, and a struggle for control of the RNC apparatus by conservative Reagan backers who want to oust moderate party chairman Bill Brock.
William Timmons, already orchestrating the GOP convention for Mr. Reagan, has been resisting efforts to get him to take on an expanded role as campaign political director. Mr. Timmons runs a lucrative lobbying practice by Washington, fruit of his six years as congressional liaison for Presidents Nixon and Ford.
But Mr. Timmon's reluctance to take the campaign job may be tied less to business demands than to a flaw in what he and others see as the Reagan campaign structure -- reliance on a committee rather than on one-man, day-to-day control. James Baker III, George Bush's primary campaign manager who ran to Ford 1976 effort, is also mentioned for the key unfilled slot.
Meanwhile, Republican state leaders impatiently complain they have no one with whom to deal in the Reagan entourage.
The naming of Drew Lewis as Mr. Reagan's envoy to the Republican National Committee has eased, but not ended, the struggle for party organization control.
Mr. Lewis's role could expand to include the full political directorship, although he lacks national campaign experience, Reagan officials say. At the outset, Mr. Lewis will oversee campaigns in "safe" Reagan states, where operations can be run from Washington.
At the moment, Mr. Lewis will have control of the $4.7 million that federal law permits the RNC to spend in behalf of a political candidate. The political director and the national Reagan campaign would have responsibility for the $29. 4 million in federal funds which goes to the Republican nominee.
As now planned, the national Reagan campaign will be run by a seven-man team meeting at 7:30 every morning in new quarters across the Potomac in Virginia. The seven would include Edwin Meese, pollster-strategist Richard Wirthlin, advertising director Peter Dailey, RNC liaison Lewis, a communications director, and the slow-to-be-found political director.
Many GOP insiders worry that the Reagan committee approach will prove too cumbersome and yield an advantage to the Democrats. "You can't get the crisp decisions you need from a committee," one such insider told the Monitor.
But after trying one-man leadership under lawyer John Sears, whom Mr. Reagan fired the day of the New Hampshire primary in February, the Republican candidate returned to his loyalist group of Californians.
Mr. Reagan functions best with his old friends -- particularly with chief aide Meese at his side -- in a committee structure, longtime supporters say.
"Reagan is simply not going to operate without Ed Meese at the center," a 14 -year veteran Reagan backer says flatly.