Republican pollster and presidential adviser Richard Wirthlin was asked to bring his political savvy to bear on a number of questions at breakfast recently.
Reporters give credence to Mr. Wirthlin's words, partly because he is a close associate of the President. But he's also regarded as a first-rate pollster whose findings are consistently credible. Here are his views on the 1984 election.
Is Reagan really in the race for reelection?
I think if the President had to make his decision today, whether to run or not - he would run. But I don't think he has absolutely, firmly made that decision.
Are you going to urge him to make the announcement early?
I would tend to feel it would be helpful for both his immediate and longer-term needs to make the decision early.
What are the factors involved in his making this decision to run?
If you accept the assumption, as I do, that Reagan's major motives have been to establish a new agenda, to turn the country in a slightly different direction than it has been going in the past, then, to me, the most important thing will be the extent to which a second term would help in that particular cause - in furthering the particular goals he has articulated.
Any other considerations in his running again?
Some have said that it depends on whether things are breaking well or not well for the President in the summer or fall of 1983. I don't think that is the case. I think that Reagan won't run from a challenge - quite the contrary. He enjoys the challenge. If things still are pretty rough for him, it won't preclude his running again.
Do you have some new polls on the President's ratings?
His job rating at present is 49 percent approval and 43 percent disapproval.
How does that compare with his standings, say, before the election?
Back in May it was exactly the same. It bounded up above 50 in August with declining interest rates. . . . It narrowed just after the election from 48 to 45. We now have picked up 2 points on the positive side and 2 points on the negative side.
The reasons: There have been signs of an improving economy. Also, the President has addressed the nation on TV during this last period. Also, his rating in the way he is handling foreign affairs has improved since that speech.
Who do you think was helped the most among the Democrats by (Sen. Edward M.) Kennedy's decision to drop out?
I think in the short run it would be (former Vice-President Walter) Mondale. I think labor's role has been enhanced. With Messrs. Mondale and Kennedy both running, it would have been very hard for labor to have gotten the two-thirds vote needed for endorsement. But that now is possible. But being the front-runner is not always the best position - as history has shown.
Of the remaining field, which would give the President the most trouble?
It's too early to make that judgment. Each carries some advantages and some liabilities.
Mondale, if he can get the nomination and wrap it up relatively early and with the support of labor, is going to be a formidable candidate in terms of the resources he can command in both a primary and general election. He should be able to coalesce his present advantage quickly.
He also comes from the Midwest, an area where the Democrats are going to have to run quite well to crack Reagan's electoral base, should Reagan run.
Now there's Sen. John Glenn: He is someone who must be seriously considered as a possible nominee. He begins with a good base in Ohio, which is an excellent state from which to launch a presidential bid. He has helped himself with the party the last few months. I understand he got some support from those who didn't want Kennedy to run. In fact, the fact that Kennedy is out may weaken Glenn's base a bit.
(Sen. Gary) Hart (of Colorado) and (former Florida Gov. Reubin) Askew both (give) the advantage of being from states where the Democrats will have to make some inroads in order to run strongly.
Then there are (Sens. Ernest F.) Hollings (of South Carolina) and (Alan) Cranston (of California) and several others. It's too early to make judgments there. There has to be some feathering out. We're likely to see as many as nine to 11 Democrats seriously discussed as possible candidates.
But wouldn't Mr. Glenn be potentially the toughest for Reagan to campaign against - because of his hero image and being in favor of a strong defense?
Glenn would be a tough contender. He has some visibility in national politics. People have had a glimpse of him in a number of different roles: astronaut, newly elected senator, contender for the vice-presidency. He doesn't represent as dramatically as some others do the politics of the past. But although he is known by a lot of Americans, he isn't known terribly well.
How then do you view the 1984 presidential race, on balance?
I have been asked whom do you fear the most on the Democratic side. And I have said I fear the unknown. We can deal with the known. We know the liabilities and abilities of the front-runners. I know what those assets and liabilities are going to be, even a year from now.
But how do you really feel about next year?
Well, if and when we get a recovery - and I think it is coming . . . (then) I will feel very, very comfortable going into the 1984 race. . . .