Running along the rim of the South, Republican nominee Ronald Reagan carried his presidential campaign to his chief opponent's home base this week. He attacked Jimmy Carter with a new rhetorical weapon -- a "family suffering index" that registers inflation's impact on household basics like food, fuel, and shelter. And Mr. Reagan sought to score on regional issues such as nuclear power and Cuban refugees.
With stops in Tennessee, Florida, Louisiana, and Missouri, Reagan south vantage points for piercing the incumbent's Dixie stronghold.
Mr. Carter defeated President Ford in all four state in 1976, but surveys suggest the races in these states this year are near tossups. During this week's campaign swing, Reagan's more disciplined road show met with some of the most fervent crowds of his campaign.
But the silent political facts behind the hoopla suggest carrying these states may not be easy.
In Tennessee, for example, Reagan must try to use Republican leverage in east Tennessee plus support from independents in the west agaisnt Carter's strengths in the Southern Baptist, traditionally "southern" central part of the state. A big GOP turnout is needed for a win.
In Florida, Reagan's political strength has ebbed lately because of doubts among the large senior citizen population in this state about his support for social security. Reagan's Florida targets are "older Jewish voters," and "Dade County Cubans." Says one plain-speaking Reagan hand, "Florida's 50-50. If we can hold the Democratic vote down in Dade County, we can win."
Reagan's campaigning has begun to show a surer dual focus that combines local appeals with broader themes intended to reach voters in whole regions and nationwide. In Florida he appealed to the four of every 10 persons over 62 yeas of age.
"In recent weeks my opponent has been using distortions and half truths . . . to frighten Americans into believing I would hurt social security," he said. He told Dade and Broward County gatherings he would "ensure that social security is so sound and so secure that no American will ever have to worry about whether or not he will receive his social security check."
He stressed the impact of inflation on consumers living on social security if the President is re-elected.
Reagan also tried to pyramid Miami-area passions over the recent influx of Cuban refugees into a "county-Florida-national problem." Polls show widespread disapproval of Carter's handling of the Cuban refugee situation.
And for Florida's considerable Jewish population, he spoke of "the Carter administration's failure to formulate and then actually implement a dependable, reliable, predictable, long-range policy for the Middle East."
In Knoxvillehs Market Square, Reagan had appealed to local chauvanism over the Tennessee Valley Authority's "tradition of progress and growth," and the controversial Oak Ridge nuclear plant.
Then, for national attention, he revealed a new Family Suffering Index, intended to reflect inflation's impact on work, food, shelter, and fuel costs.
Reagan's "family suffering index" combines average mortgage interest rates for the year, th rate of food and fuel price hikes, and the unemployment rate. When Carter took office, Reagan said, the index stood at 24.2. It has tripled to 77 in 1980, he declared.