From the start of the 1980 presidential campaign, jimmy Carter has set these objectives: 1. To give special attention to establishing the differences between him and Ronald Reagan -- in ideology, positions, and style.
2. To try to keep himself in a "presidential" posture as much as he possibly can -- as opposed to letting his approach become simply that of a campaign battler who is fighting it out with an opponent.
The President's political advisers tell the Monitor that Mr. Carter intends now to "take the high road," avoiding personalities and the kind of rough campaign rhetoric that could lower the tone of the presidential race.
"If roughness is needed," one presidential aide says, "we'll pretty much leave this up to the vice-president."
By remaining presidential in his approach, Mr. Carter hopes to retain what he sees as his chief advantage in his effort to overhaul Mr. Reagan -- the fact that he can continue throughout the campaign to remind the voters that he is holding the highest office in the land and that he has had nearly four years of experience in that position.
"If the President takes the low road," a Carter adviser says, "he'll lose the presidential edge, the incumbency edge."
This same adviser says, however, that Carter is a "little ambivalent" on this point -- that, as a matter of fact, he has already "put some rough edges" in his speeches that "we've had to talk him out of using."
Meanwhile, the Carter camp was growing cautiously optimistic at the outset of the fall campaign.
"We're almost even," John White, Democratic national chairman, told the Monitor over the weekend. "I've been checking with polling being done at the congressional-district level and I find we're coming up fast. The next national poll, right after Labor Day, should put us within 4 or 5 points of Reagan with Anderson included and several points ahead of Reagan with Anderson excluded."
"Further," mr. White says, "[administration pollster Pat] Caddell tells us things are looking a lot better. For example, he now tells me that California is in good enough shape for us to invest in a major effort there. Also, New york looks much better -- with Governor [Hugh] Carey now going all out for us."
Mr. White concedes that the President's ability to beat Reagan -- "as it appears now" -- depends on "Anderson continuing to fade."
Much of the news media focus now is on whether there will be debates. Recently there has been speculation that the debates may not be held at all -- because Carter insists on the first debate being simply between him and Reagan and because Reagan is equally insistent on having John anderson included.
"There'll be a debate," White says. "But probably later on in the campaign. And it will be just Carter and Reagan. All of the President's political advisers are firm on making it a two-man, Reagan-Carter debate. . . ."
What White and other Carter people seem to be anticipating is an Anderson decline in support which will make his exclusion easy -- because Anderson will by then nt be viewed as a serious contender.
At any rate, the presidential adamancy on limiting the first debate to just head-to-head collision with Reagan seems clear: "It's the bottom line with me," says White. "And I think it is with the President."