Shaken by a growing number of defections, high-ranking campaign strategists for President Carter's re-election effort in the state where the Democratic National Convention will be held in less than two weeks have declared they will fight back -- and hard.
Statewide, however, the anti-Carter sentiment has many New York politicians confused and on the defensive, observers here say. Some are being kept so busy saying an open convention would be bad for the party that they have had little time to speak up on behalf of the President's record.
But Queens Borough president Donald Manes, Mr. Carter's New York City campaign chairman, told the Monitor: "Anyone who thinks he's going to steal the nomination from Jimmy Carter is in for a major battle. I intend to ask all the Carter delegates who are public officials to get out on the hustings and speak up for Jimmy Carter."
"To change the rules [of the convention] is ridiculous and totally unfair," Mr. Manes said. It's like changing the rules of baseball in the ninth inning with two men out." He pledged to "play hardball" against those who want to deny the President renomination.
Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Mario Cuomo, Mr. Carter's state campaign chairman, said he is confident "we will defeat the movement for a rule change [for an open convention]" and that the 118 New York delegates supporting the President would "hold firm." Mr. Cuomo conferred with the President on the matter by telephone July 29.
These comments came as New York Mayor Edward Koch and other top Democrats across the country were hedging their support for the President.
Mayor Koch at this writing maintains he is committed to the President's renomination but is "reserving my options" about whether to join the growing chorus in favor of an open convention.
Other top Democrats across the state, however, have called for an open convention. These include Gov. Hugh Carey, whom some observers say would like a stab at the nomination himself, US Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan, Rep. Thomas Downey, and Rep. Jerome Ambro.
While Mr. Manes and Mr. Cuomo were channeling their anger over the open convention movement into more ambitious campaign activity, the mood of many campaign workers here was one of discouragement.
Part of this discouragement is due to seeing so many state Democratic luminaries, in of an open convention. But some are dejected more because of the split in state party ranks that the issue has caused.
Mr. Cuomo accuses Governor Carey of putting his own political ambitions above those of the party by renewing support for an open convention.