GOP senses victory with 'unknown' Reagan

An unmistakable glow of a Reagan victory is lighting up this convention city -- and it is being noted by the mini-army of visiting news media. Tthe anticipation that this convention's nominee will go on to win in the fall is being found among the Republicans already assembled here, shaping the platform and rules and carrying out other party functions.

Reporters note that this feeling also comes from Detroit citizens -- most of them Democrats -- who see promise in Ronald Reagan even as they are expressing discontent with President Carter.

The kind of winning glow that appears to hang over the still-empty convention hall was never discernible in Kansas City four years ago -- even when Gerald Ford sent GOP hopes rising with his rousing, fighting convention speech.

That speech did no more than raise Republican hopes a little at what was generally a less-than-optimistic gathering.

Whatever this air of expectancy here may mean for Mr. Reagan and Republicans in the fall, it is being described by the media as the dominant tone of this emerging convention.

So far this optimism is overshadowing the negatives at work -- the continuing city workers' strike here with its garbage in the streets and the disputes among platform shapers about women's rights and abortion.

Reporters note another strong current of pinion here, too: a widespread feeling among the delegates already on hand that they would like to know the man they are about to nominate a lot better.

Repeatedly, in conversations with these key Republicans a reporter hears questions like these: "What is Reagan really like?" or "What makes Reagan tick?"

Reporters are reminded of four years ago when many of the Democratic delegates who were nominating Jimmy Carter in New York said they were not sure that they knew him. Many still were asking, "Jimmy Who?"

Mr. Carter was a stranger simply because he had come from relative obscurity very fast and from a region remote from the kind of national press coverage that puts politicians on the map. Ronald Reagan, on the other hand, is well known -- his name a household word, his face on the TV creen, not only in a political context but in late-night movie reruns.

Nevertheless, Mr. Reagan still is a stranger to a lot of people -- not just in the general public, but even to those who are about to ask him to seek the White House.

The problem these delegates have with Mr. Reagan, they tell reporters, is the feeling that they really don't know him -- "what's inside him?" (as one GOP leader comments). Yet while these questions are being raised, they also speak of the Clifornian as being warn and likable.

"Some say we are here only for a coronation," a Midwesterner says. "But I think we're here to get to know Reagan better. Maybe it's because he was in the movies. Anyway, I keep wondering how much of what we see of him is Reagan -- and how much is acting."

Other Republicans -- again within the context of declaring their allegiance to Mr. Reagan -- were using words like "detached," "remote," and "Private" to describe the man they soon will formally make their candidate.

"Reagan's always so nice and friendly," an Easterner said. "You have to like him. But I still don't fell I know what's him -- where he's coming from.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.