Ronald Reagan will take the "middle road" in his bid to capture the presidency, not turning his back on the conservatives but seeking to broaden his political base to attract independents and Democrats.
Key to this is a "Norheast strategy," which a top Reagan operative says will "seek to appeal to voters in the industrial states of New England and the East -- and appeal which should also help us in the industrial Midwest, particularly in Ohio, Illinois, and Michigan.
"That's where the election will be decided -- in those industrial areas," the source said. "We believe we have the West with Reagan now, including California. And while we think we can make inroads into the South, we cannot count on taking that area away from Carter.
"Right now," he added, "it looks as though we could. But we are afraid that, in the end, the blacks there will once again back Carter. That would mean we would have to win some 55 to 60 percent of the white vote. And that would be most difficult to do. So we think it more likely that we will win some of the upper South states plus Florida -- and perhaps lose the rest.
"So we don't think we can win with a West-South approach. We'll need more. And by doing well in the industrial North -- which we think is very possible -- we can win the election."
Another Reagan insider, while applauding the strategy, expressed this reservation:
"I'm afraid that we may fail to have the resolution to carry forward. We're bound to irritate some of our right wing as we bid for those who usually vote Democrat -- particularly the blue-collar workers, but also Jews and ethnic voters. Then what happens? In being conciliatory to our conservatives we may just stop short of making the kind of bid necessary to attract these independents and Democrats."
The Reagan planners cited the following as support for their decision to pursue what they now call their "Northeast strategy":
* President Carter is particularly vulnerable among what the Reagan planners call urban ethnics. Thus, if Mr. Reagan can come up with a position on Israel that appeals to Jewish voters and a job and tax program that will appeal to the so-called industrial areas, he should be able to cut deeply into a vote that the President simply can't afford to lose.
"It's clear," one Reagan strategist says, "that workers and ethnics in the North never have liked Carter very much. [Former President] Ford profited from that in 1976. Now if we can get these people to like Reagan and his programs -- to feel that he has something for them -- we don't think it will be to hard to pry them away from this Democratic President."
*Mr. Reagan's record as a Governor of California was sufficiently moderate in dealing with welfare, conservation, and education to provide him with a strong "talking point" in making a bid for independents and Democrats.
William Casey, Mr. Reagan's top campaign adviser, says that the candidate, as a campaigner and as a president, would be pragmatic and flexible -- not down-the-line conservative.
This pragmatism and flexibility, Reagan strategists say, will be at the center of his bid for the presidency.
These Reagan sources also make it clear that their candidate will have a "national strategy."
"We are not writing off any region," one Reagan associate says. The candidate "will be going all over the country in his bid for support."
But the chief thrust of Mr. Reagan's upcoming campaign, as outlined by Mr. Casey, is to capture and hold low- and middle-income voters, most of whom are either Democrats or independents.
"We will concentrate on the Northeast and the industrial Midwest," says Mr. Casey. He adds that Mr. Reagan will stick closely to a "positive" campaign -- vowing that he will show how he would improve the economy and foreign relations.
Above all, according to Mr. Casey, the Reagan effort this fall will be to persuade the public that the Californian is a reasonable, practical person. "We need to change this public perception of Reagan as being conservative. He is pragmatic."
Republican strategists say it is this "pragmatic" Reagan they think can be "sold" to the industrial North.
Bill Brock, GOP national chairman, conferred recently with the Reagan people on post-convention campaign plans. At a breakfast with reporters here in Detroit, Mr. Brock said the "battleground" Mr. Reagan "will have to take if he is to win is the industrial region between Missouri and New York." Mr. Brock went on to say that to do well in that region, Mr. Reagan would have to have a running mate who would appeal to the ethnics, blacks, and workers who live there.