Carter's campaign now on its own after convention boosts his ratings
Washington — Despite the reluctance if not the snub of Ted Kennedy's endorsement, President Carter has apparently got what he wanted from the convention -- a boost in the polls that has sped him close to his GOP rival.
Now the two major candidates are aloft like gliders on the volatile thermals and downdrafts of 1980 voter opinion. Independent John Anderson, at a lesser height, still awaits a lift. A decision to give him more time to qualify in the polls for the Sept. 18 presidential debate has encouraged the Anderson rooters.
In any event, the 1980 presidential race is speeding away from Ted Kennedy's moment of influence in defeat at Madison Square Garden, putting the Kennedy phenomenon in perspective.
The Carter forces recognize there is little Mr. Kennedy can do for them from here on. They must win the election on their own.
Overtaking Mr. Reagan in the polls (despite the closeness of the post-convention Gallup survey: Reagan 39 percent, Carter 38 percent, Anderson 14 percent) will depend on the impact of events such as the Polish worker uprising and the presidential debates.
Kennedy's promise to campaign for the ticket, Carter aides acknowledge, may help more to keep Kennedyites in the Democratic column than would his actual upstaging presence on the platform.
Kennedy aid on the stump in pivotal states like Ohio would be welcome, Democratic leaders say. But they acknowledge that in the modern political era, candidates depend mostly on their own resources for election. They raise their own money, plan their own campaigns, rely heavily on news media attention. They do not depend on the coattails of a presidential contender -- or his defeated rival.
Hence how intensively the senator campaigns this fall for the President and Democrats across the country could tell more about his ambitions for 1984 than his dedication to 1980's outcome, political analysts say.
Kennedy's 1980 presence could be useful in a broad trickle-down sense, rather than targeted for specific candidates or to offset a Carter drag, political professionals say.
"Candidates who are vulnerable are not vulnerable because of Jimmy Carter," says Patrick Leahy, executive director of the Ohio Democratic Committee. "Coattails are a myth. The public picks and chooses on the ballot. The Kennedys are already canonized in this party. If Ted comes to this state, he'll be helpful to everybody from the President to the local sheriff."
In a year in which the potential for a low turnout is great, Kennedy's campaigning could be helpful, says Democratic pollster and strategist Peter Hart.
The professionals' opinion of Kennedy's future vary dramatically:
"Kennedy is out for '84," says I. A. Lewis, director of the Los Angeles Times Poll. "There are only four reasons Kennedy didn't make it this time. First, he wasn't organized. Second, Iran. Third, these are not the times for the most liberal politician in the US. Fourth, the moral issue: Chappaquiddick, womanizing.
"I polled and polled on these issues.
"The first three tell you he could make it in '84. It's the last one that says he can't. In 24 states of 36, people showed they just won't put up with that -- whether it's '80 or '84. It won't change because of a speech. I think he's going to be satisfied with the current appraisal of his style and grace."
Richard Scammon, director of the Elections Research Center, sees the '84 question sitll wide open to events and trends.
"The Democratic convention itself was much more liberal than the country," Mr. Scammon says. The liberal/conservative split in the nation is about even at 20 percent, he estimates. But the liberal presence at the convention was at least 50 percent, overdramatizing Mr. Kennedy's appeal.
"Concern about Soviet adventurism will likely increase in the next four years ," Scammon says. Such a trend could isolate Mr. Kennedy from the mainstream of opinion. "Kennedy has been a greater pacifist than McGovern," he says.
The highly regarded Republican strategist, John Sears, thinks Carter's accommodations to Kennedy have in effect dealt Vice-President Walter F. Mondale out of the running for '84.
Others, however, disagree. "If Carter wins the election, Mondale will be in good shape for '84," says Democratic strategist Paul Lutzker. "If Carter loses, it's hard to see what Mondale will be able to do to build a following."
"Mondale has not been dealt out," sys Scammon. "It's too early. The evaluation of Mondale must wait until after the '82 election."
West Coast pollster Mervin Field says, "Kennedy can start running now for '84 ."
"I see him in better shape to maintain his own turf than Reagan was in '76," Mr. Field says. "for a defeated candidate, he's in a remarkable position. He can say it's not me leaving the party, it's Carter.
"He can say he's running on principles -- he supports Jimmy Carter where he's in agreement with the platform.
"If Kennedy's on the stump for other candidates this fall, that's the sign he's running in '84."
If Mr. Carter wins, he can frustrate Kennedy's 1984 ambitions "by really investing a lot in Mondale -- enhancing Mondale's chances for '84," Field says.
Another potential 1984 contender is Carter himself. "If Carter loses, I think there's a good chance he'd be back in '84," says David Gergen, former aide to President Ford and now a public opinion analyst.