With 29 days before the election, the Carter forces realize the time is shrinking for them to overtake Ronald Reagan. Democratic pollster Michael Barone told this writer an election now would be won by Mr. Reagan -- 334 electoral votes, to 204 for Mr. Carter. The Carter people say their electoral count gives Reagan 232, the President 212, with 94 in doubt. But their in-doubt group includes states like Washington, Oregon, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, which most observers see leaning to Reagan.
By almost every count, however, the Carter camp sees the electoral advantage in the Republican's hands. Newsweek magazine gives Reagan 321 electoral votes, President Carter 142, with 75 in doubt, and 270 needed to win. Similarly, the New York Times counts Reagan at 314, Carter at 136, with 88 in doubt. The Washington Post tallies 283 electoral votes for Reagan, 151 for Carter, and 104, a tossup.
But the overall impression shows Carter not making any substantial headway the past two weeks in either the electoral vote or the national polls.
Carter strategists are still guardedly optimistic, however. They refer to intangibles being on their side: "the timing, "the dynamics," "the structure."
They feel independent John Anderson's campaign "is unraveling fast," which they claim is a break for them. They also say events of the campaign are "responding to Carter/Mondale initiatives" -- that they are better able to take advantage of opportunities than is the Reagan/Bush team. They like the way the President's road show -- constrained by finances to two or three days travel a week -- is clicking.
The Carter camp is counting on heavy surrogate duty by members of the President's Cabinet -- reportedly 110 campaign days in all -- and paid ads in the news media to help turn the tide. Also, the President's strategists figure the factions of the Old Democratic coalition will coalesce again.
But fellow Democrat Barone and independent observers question whether the "intangibles" will work out the way the Carter staffers hope.
"Two things have happened the last two weeks and neither has helped Carter -- the collapse of Anderson and the Iran-Iraq war," Barone says. "You have a war on, and there's no rally-round-the-flag pickup for Carter."
By region, here is the way the Democrats see the electoral race with four weeks to go:
* West. Barone has Reagan ahead by 98 electoral votes to 4. He and the Carter camp give the President only Hawaii's 4 electoral votes. Barone has the Pacific tier leaning to Reagan, but Carter strategists count Washington and Oregon as in doubt.
* Midwest.The strong Reagan states are North Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and Indiana. Leaning to Reagan are South Dakota, Iowa, and Ohio. Barone also has Illinois, Missouri, and Wisconsin leaning to Reagan, while Carterites put these states in doubt. The Carter camp claims only Minnesota and Michigan in the Democratic column at the moment, but Barone and the Republicans are calling Michigan a narrowly Reagan state at the moment.
Pushing the tossup states to a decision, Barone gives Reagan a surprising 135 -to-10 lead in the dozen Midwestern states. The Carter camp calls it closer: Reagan 65, Carter 31, tossup 49.
* South and border region. Reagan's only sure strong state is Oklahoma. Texas, Florida, and Virginia lean to Reagan at the moment. The Carter forces claim Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, and South Carolina are leaning their way, and Arkansas, Georgia, West Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland, and the District of Columbia are strong for the President. Disagreeing with his White House counterparts, Barone sees Texas strong for Reagan, Louisiana leaning to Reagan, and Maryland only leaning to Carter.
In the Southeast, Barone gives Carter a 93-to-73 electoral vote edge, while Caterites claim a 103-to-63 advantage, with no tossups.
* Northeast. Barone gives Pennsylvania to Carter, while the President's own men put it in the doubtful category. Leaning to Carter are New York, Delaware, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. New Hampshire appears strong for Reagan. Barone also gives Maine and Vermont outright to Reagan, while the Carter camp thinks it has a chance in both.
In the race for the Northeast's 125 electoral votes, Carter has a 97-to-28 edge by Barone's tally -- with no tossups -- while the President's men count 74 for Carter, 21 for Reagan, and 30 electoral votes in doubt.