On both US coasts, the 1980 presidential race apparently has bogged down in soft support for both ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter -- with John Anderson kept afloat by the persistent unease over the two major candidates.
Here in Pennsylvania, the fourth-largest state, a lead of a half-dozen points for Mr. Reagan two weeks ago has nearly vanished to a "very slight" edge or is "dead even" now, his people say.
And on the West Coast, Reagan's 31-point July margin over Mr. Carter shrank to 10 points in iterviews last week, according to the latest California Poll released today (Sept. 9). This is close enough to make a contest in Reagan's home territory, the nation's most populous state.
While Carter appears to be the gainer in the latest state surveys, he actually is doing poorly also, poll analysts say. In Pennsylvania, a state Carter won in 1976, Democrats hold a large registration advantage.
In California, "any Democratic incumbent should be taking more votes than Carter is," says Mervin Field, director of the California Poll and adviser to the League of Women Voters on the question of Mr. Anderson's inclusion in the presidential debates. Democrats hold a 54 percent to 34 percent advantage over republican in California voter registration.
"They're both incredibly soft," says Democratic pollster Peter Hart of the two major candidates' current levels of support, with more than 50 days left in the campaign.
Relatively, Carter appears in the better position. "They're starting out even this week in the national polls," says pollster I.A. Lewis, "and that's bad for Reagan. Any consolidation, any return of the natives in coming weeks, has to favor the Democrats. There are just more of them."
The most recent polls -- a national Yankelovich, Skelly, and White survey for Time magazine, a New York Times poll of New York State, and the Gallup and Roper surveys -- show a uniform pulling even in the race. "Even is way behind for Reagan," Mr. Lewis says.
Meanwhile, this week the Reagan campaign continues pressing for ethnic, Catholic, Democratic, and working-class votes in the Nothern industrial belt from Pennsylvania to Illinois, with no plan to shore up its weakening Western base until possibly late September.
Typically, in Philadelphia Sept. 7 and 8, Reagan affirmed his support for social security, quoted John F. Kennedy, praised tuition credits for private/parochial education, and chided Carter for favoring "public education only." He cited the Philadelphia working- class movie hero Rocky and visited with John Cardinal Kroll, the roman Catholic Archbishop of Philadelphia.
Frank Donatelli, Reagan coordinator for Pennsylvania and Ohio, says: "The message is the same for both states -- lower taxes, lower inflation, less unemployment. We have to make inroads among ethnics, blu-collar workers, and Democrats in both states," Reagan also will visit Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and western New York in four busy campaign days this week.
Drew Lewis, a Pennsylvania political power in his own right and a top Reagan aide, says, "Our game is to keep Carter's lead under 150,000 in Philadelphia." In Mr. Lewis's own recent bid for governor he lot the Democratic cities of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh by 320,000 votes -- enough to tip the scales in an election lost by 300,000 votes statewide.
While the major candidates slug it out among unenthusiastic voters, Anderson appears to benefit -- for the moment. Recent Anderson successes -- including approval of a federal payback for campaign debts and anticipated inclusion in the first League of Women Voters debate -- rules out any exit from the race.
"Now he can't get out," pollster Lewis says. "He's going to go deeper and deeper into debt. He's said if he becomes a spoiler, he'd get out. Now the leg iron is on."
"If the campaign continues in September as it has in the first couple of weeks, I would expect a continuing repatriation of Democrats to the fold," Mr. Field says, "and a continuing Carter gain. But Anderson is hurting the repatriation."
Anderson is postponing the "hard decision" for some voters, Field says. "If it's postponed to the last week or two, I don't know what will happen."
The September Field poll for California results -- Reagan 39 percent, Carter 29, and Anderson 18 -- almost exactly duplicate the April standings, the pollster observes, and suggests a return to base or "normal" levels of support for the candidates. However, the Field data show, half of Anderson's 18 percent would go to Carter in a town-man race, 5 percent to Reagan, and 4 percent to "undecided." Thus, without Anderson, Carter would be only 6 points behind.