Outlook: Reagan's lead steadies; Carter fights slippage; Democrats fret over less-than-solid South
New Orleans — President Carter is finding it hard in 1980 to stake down his native South, the region that secured his 1976 victory. His greetings here this week -- the last full week of campaigning -- have been less than triumphal.
Against Gerald Ford, Mr. Carter swept 154 of the 166 Southern and border state electoral votes, with the Republican taking only Virginia's 12. This was more than half of Carter's 297 total (270 needed to win).
Now, seven of the 16 Southern or border states are labeled in doubt by either the Carter or Reagan camp -- Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky, and South Carolina. They account for 87 electoral votes, or half the South's total.
Carter strategists claim the election momentum is toward them. Yet, with all but a few campaign days behind them, they can lay claim to only 100 of the South's votes by their own count. Carter claims Arkansas, Georgia, West Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland, and the District of Columbia as firm, and Louisiana, Tennessee, Kentucky, and South Carolina as leaning his way.
Across the South, regional pride in electing "one of their own" as president has ebbed now that it has been done -- although it may come through for Carter again.
The President visited the Gulf tier of questionable states Oct. 21-22. In Florida he sought to calm the waters roiled by the Cuban refugee boatlift -- his biggest problem there. He told Miamians that $100 million in US funds already announced would soon prop up the cost of absorbing the refugees, promised to block any new refugee influx, and sought to compare the Cuban migration with earlier waves of immigration.
But to Florida blacks, who are vital to his re-election, it was a hard sell. They feel they have borne the brunt of the Cuban influx with lost jobs, community upset, and crime.
And the defeat of Sen. Richard Stone, a power in the Jewish community, in the Democratic primary is thought to help Reagan in Florida.
Louisiana basically is a conservative state where the Democratic Party affiliation edge might not help Carter as much as outsiders think, says Louisiana State University political expert Louis Newman.
The President promised New Orleans a new coal shipping facility. But the close balance between conservative and liberal forces makes it difficult for him at the last moment to sway any large group. Showing its conservatism, the state passed a right-to- work law six years ago over the protest of organized labor. Yet in a liberal tradition its largest crops -- sugar cane and rice -- are both highly price-supported.
Louisiana has a 27 percent black population and more black elected officials than any other state. But they lack enthusiasm for Carter, which leaves him with little leverage in state party ties or voter blocks.
Texas, with 26 electoral votes, is "terribly close," says Ruth Morgan, Southern Methodist University political scientist, confirming recent polls and implicit in Carter's hard day of campaigning Oct. 22 in Beaumont, Waco, and Texarkana.
"Carter can pull it out by election day," Mrs. Morgan says. "But he's in trouble with farmers and rural voters. A lot of grain men say they could never vote for him. He's going to have to pick up in the suburbs to offset Republican strength in the cities.
"He's going to have to play on the fear of Reagan and the war issue. But he must be careful; this is a state that favors strong defense."