Underdog Strauss keeps up his lively campaign

The helicopter drops down somewhere nearby, the Schmidt Happy Time Band blasts out another rousing refrain, and the 10,000 faithful bused in from surrounding localities watch expectantly for the chancellor candidate to appear.

Then Franz Josef Strauss himself comes around the edge of the brick wall of the P.J. Wolff machine building plant that forms the backdrop for this open-air campaign rally. The crowds applaud; the candidate beams; some boys unfurl a hand-lettered banner reading "Youth for Fr. Jos Strauss.

It's a tough act. The opinion polls all show Mr. Strauss losing decisively to incumbent Chancellor Helmut Schmidt at the Oct. 5 election. And even the conservative stronghold of Duren, while still giving the conservatives the majority in the state election last spring, dropped several percentage points in its support. So did a lot of other districts in West Germany's most populous state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

The reason, pundits thought, was north German's misrust of the highly intelligent, oratorically gifted, but often vindicative Bavarian who is now running for chancellor.

The two local politicians who precede Strauss on the platform welcome him in the name of their city, the home of the paper the West German constitution is printed on. They present him with a lump of brown coal mine in the region. Then they turn the podium over to the star.

As usual, Strauss holds his audience easily. There's not the kind of avid loyalty here that moves some Bavarian taxi drivers to refuse riders who have "Stop Strauss" stickers on their luggage -- or that caused one Bavarian Catholic priest to throw himself on the road in front of the cars of an itinerant anti-Strauss theater troupe to prevent its procession. But there is respect for the conservative standard- bearer, and a liely interest in this first- class showman. An there is delight in the barbs Strauss throws effectively at the few hecklers in the crowd.

Strauss has notes, but he hardly glances at them. He knows what he wants to say. He is for two principles: mean fredom of workplaces, freedom for consumers , free enterprise and free management decision, and freedom of private property. It's shameful, he says, how many German enterprises have lost faith in the future because of socialism at home and the Soviet shadow in Europe and are investing abroad rather than at home.

Unlike Chancellor Schmidt, Strauss continues, he has no "Moscow faction" in his party that forces him to "decouple" from the US. As chancellor he, Strauss, would travel first not to Moscow or to Danzig, but to Washington. In his unbroken service in the Bundestag in the entire postwar period (until he retired from parliament to become minister- president of Bavaria two years ago) he voted for all those things Schmidt's Social Democratic Party (SPD) voted against, including a West German Army and alliance with the West.

Look at the record, Strauss insists. In 1969 the conservatives said the SPD wanted to recognize East Germany and the Oder-Neisse line as the eastern border of Germany. The SPD called this a pure lie. But as soon as it got a majority it did exactly this. Every politician favors detente, but Strauss is for "realistic detente," not for "romantic detente."

The spectators like the message. They stand for an hour and a half in the sun listening to Strauss without tiring. At the end many from the audience crowd onto the platform to get a historic autograph; the last time Strauss came to Duren was in 1958, and who knows when a busy chancellor might come again?

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