Countdown -- candidates' final plans
Washington — With the Cleveland debate behind them, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan have resumed their rush to the finish of the 1980 presidential campaign with their end-of-the-race road maps intact.
Each must now convince the public he can win, strategists say. Each will strive to show assurance, confidence, but with the President staying the aggressor.
The President is pressing on in the odd role of incumbent challenger, as Gerald Ford did four years ago, trying to overtake his out-of-office rival.
On the road, Mr. Carter is circuiting the states and regions he must win. In the East it was Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey on Wednesday. The Midwest: Michigan and Missouri Thursday. The South/border region: South Carolina, Florida, Tennessee, Mississippi on Friday. Then Texas on Saturday, Illinois Sunday, and California -- a surprise dash with an eye on Washington and Oregon to the north -- on Monday.
Thus, as in the debate, Carter will be carrying the fight to Ronald Reagan all the way to the end, seeking a one-to-one election eve comparison with Reagan on the Republican's home turf.
Mr. Reagan plans to wind up his election run Monday with a San Diego gala, after campaigning nonstop in Texas, Louisiana, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Michigan, and Oregon.
For independent candidate John Anderson, the end-game strategy is to convince votes he is still a major factor in the outcome whether he can win any electoral votes outright or not, although "the company line stillis he hopes he can win," aides say.
They point to Mr. Anderson's ratings of 8 to 14 percent nationwide, and 11 percent in California.
"Carter can't say that's insignificant unless he's whistling in a graveyard," and Anderson spokesman says. After visiting Pennsylvania and New Jersey Wednesday, Anderson campaigns in New York and Connecticut Thursday, Massachusetts Friday, California Saturday, Iowa on Sunday, finishing in Minnesota and his native Illinois Monday.
The two major party candidates actually deployed election strategies, not debate-winning strategies for the Cleveland debate.
What the public heard in the debate was a 90-minute replay of what they had earlier seen in 90-second segments over the evening news in recent weeks and months: Carter trying to plant the seeds of doubt about Reagan on war and on women's and minority rights; Reagan trying to shed the defensve role and focus on Carter's economic record.
These themes will be pressed relentlessly in their final drive.
The overall impact of the debate appears likely to be absorbed in the final days' playout of the campaign, accentuating themes already in place.
Reagan supporters figure they entered the debate ahead, held their groundamong the undecided, but still must turn out their own vote in force in the closing hours. As the week began, they counted 283 electoral votes -- 13 more than needed to win -- for Reagan, 126 for Carter, and 129 in doubt.
According to a post-debate Associated Press survey, Carter and Reagan scored identical six-point gains among undecided voters who watched the debate. On Monday, the day before the debate, a nationwide AP survey called the race Reagan 39, Carter 35, Anderson 7 percent, undecided 19 percent. Among the 1,062 who then watched the debate, Reaganheld his own among the undecideds.
If such findings are borne out by other post-debate surveys, Reagan may be able to claim the coveted homestretch "confidence."
"Now, each candidate must try to convince the country he is going to win," says Richard Bennett, political strategist and pollester, based in New England. "For Anderson, there's no way he can do that. Carter has the edge in national polls. But this is a state-by-state election, and Reagan in electoral votes has the edge. Carter particularly has to convince people he can win."
"The trend thelast two weeks nationwide has been toward the Democrats," Mr. Bennett says. Three weeks ago, many Democrats felt excluded from the election."
"Now Democrats say they're going to vote, but they've been undecided," Bennett says. "Voters have to justify a vote. They're unsure which direction to go in. The game now is who is going to win. They want to gravitate toward a winner."
Carter's last-day thrust into Reagan's home territory may be nomore than a "can-win" bluff, Reagan campaign sources say. Public polls have shown Reagan holding seven- and five-point leads. Republican pollester Robert Teeter rates the state "strong" for Reagan. But Mr. Teeter rates Oregon a tossup, andboth Democratic and Republican pollster rate Washington at best narrowly leaning toward Reagan.
"Reagan has to appear to have a steamroller going here," says one Republican strategist. "The 2-to-1 ABC [post-debate] telephone poll win for Reagan was impressive -- even discounting the Republican edge in such samplings. And then the AP poll, and the pundits saying the debate was even.
"Carter obviously had a clear plan to make the South, ERA, war fears, and the toughness ofthe job the issues in the debate. But Reagan showed himself no warmonger, no bumbler. There was no winner.
"Reagan has some tools now to say he can win this thing, some trumpets to rally the troops."