'Hard hats' looking to Reagan for jobs, inflation turnaround

The news media on the campaign trail with Ronald Reagan are finding the same thing that the pollsters are reporting: That Mr. Reagan is cutting deeply into the Democratic vote base -- among blue- collar workers who feel Jimmy Carter's economic policies have not worked for them. A sample of the Reagan technique:

Item: In New York, Reagan shakes hands with admiring "hard hat" workers, and they applaud him roundly as he promises to turn the economy around, stimulate employment, and cut back inflation.

Then he dons a hard hat, and the workers cheer. It looks good on this well-built, one-time football player. He throws the hat to a workman in the crowd.

"He's still the Gipper," someone in the audience yells.

Item: In Paterson, N.J., there are many in the audience who -- reporters find -- are without jobs.

Aware that he is speaking to many Roman Catholics, both in the crowd and in the community and state at large, Reagan is critical of the President for not helping parochial schools -- and particularly for not favoring tax credits for parents of children attending "nonpublic schools."

"We will work to see that a tuition tax- credit bill is passed," Reagan says, "so that parents of children attending nonpublic schools will be better able to fulfill their obligation to make certain that children get the kind of education parents want."

A man in the audience speaks up: "But that's not constitutional."

"Yes, it is," Reagan says. "Separation of church and state does not mean we have to separate us from our religion." Then he adds: "I'm not going to let this system [of parochial schools] be destroyed."

Item: In economically depressed northeastern Pennsylvania, Reagan speaks to people at an appearance in Wilkes-Barre. Again, the crowds are large and attentive.

"Republicans usually don't draw crowds like this around here," a policeman reports.

But "Reagan's got a good Irish name," says a blue-collar worker in the crowd. "It's a good Democratic name."

Reagan reminds this and other crowds of workers and those without jobs that "I used to be a Democrat."

He also reminds his audience -- as he did in Paterson and New York -- that he once was a union leader.

Mindful that some voters are concerned that he might, as president, cut back on social security benefits, Reagan says here, as he frequently does in his speeches to blue- collar crowds:

"We will work to see that the social security system is sound and protected and that those on fixed incomes can plan and hope again without the fear of Carter inflation taking away, bit by bit, all they have.

"I am committed to preserving and protecting the social security system, because for millions of elderly Americans, it's their greatest hope for a safe and secure retirement."

Reagan remembers that Barry Goldwater lost many votes in 1964 because of a widespread perception (which was not true) that he was going to do away with social security.

In a new Washington Post survey, which shows Reagan now well out in front, there is this analysis of the GOP candidate's appeal to Democrats:

"That erosion of Carter's base results in part from the Anderson slough-off, but even more from Reagan's success in playing on the disillusionment of former Carter supporters -- many of them blue-collar families -- with the President's economic policies and performance in office."

Anyone who travels with Reagan these days cannot possibly miss seeing this significant blue-collar voter trend.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.