Agreement on Reagan's popularity -- from both parties
Washington — Washingtonians are continuing to be stunned over some recent political admissions by that usually highly partisan Democratic leader, Rep. Tony Coelho of California.
Mr. Coelho, who heads the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told breakfasting reporters that the President's pollster, Richard Wirthlin, was right - that despite all reports and findings to the contrary, the President was still hanging onto the strong blue-collar support he had won in 1980.
Mr. Wirthlin, only a few mornings earlier, had informed a rather incredulous group of journalists that notwithstanding high unemployment, the President still held on to a sizable portion of a working force that normally votes Democratic.
''It's an interesting phenomenon,'' Coelho said. ''What our data show is that the blue-collar person is a gutty person. He likes someone who relates to that. They like Reagan's guttiness. They don't always agree with him. . . . But because of this, our polls show they are coming back to Reagan.''
By ''gutty,'' Coelho said he meant someone who was perceived as being strong, assertive, even macho.
At one point Coelho went even further in his concession of Reagan's political strength: He admitted that this public perception of the President as being very much in command gives him immense pulling power among all voters, not just the blue-collar workers.
He said that unless the Democrats could, themselves, come up with ''someone who is perceived as strong, as being willing to do some things,'' they would not be able to beat Reagan next year, if he decides to run.
Was he saying that among the current Democratic candidates there was no such person, a reporter asked. Coelho seemed to duck and weave a bit.
''I think there are gutty Democratic candidates running for the nomination,'' he said. ''They are there. What is important is that they are perceived as such.''
''I don't think the American public wants someone who can sit back, who simply can manage or just be bright,'' he said.
Wirthlin had said he could foresee a Reagan victory in '84 that would have a positive coattail effect for all Republicans running.
However, Coelho said he saw a continuation of the tendency for many voters to back Reagan and then vote for Democratic candidates in other high positions. Thus, he predicts the Democrats ''picking up five to eight seats'' next year.
Coelho contends that voter admiration for Reagan is mixed with anxiety over where his assertiveness might take him. Thus, he says, the same Democratic voter who backs Reagan tends to surround him with Democratic members of Congress who will keep a rein on this very same Reagan strength.
Coelho says that was at the base of the Democratic comeback in the 1982 election - an assertion of voter ''caution,'' lest Reagan go too far with what he was advocating, particularly with regard to the economy.
Coelho says that new Reagan initiatives directed toward helping the government of El Salvador have made it ''his war.'' He indicated that this was a serious political blunder on the President's part.
''But,'' a reporter asked, ''for the short run,'' wouldn't Coelho's perception of this being ''Reagan's war,'' likely help the President politically - by, in Coelho's own words, making the President appear quite ''gutty'' in 1984 ?
Here Coelho got his back up a bit. ''Well, let me tell you this,'' he said, ''if economic recovery remains positive and everyone is happy because inflation is down, interest rates are down, the deficit is being reduced, and we defeat the guerrillas in El Salvador and communism has been put back - Reagan will be elected king. But that's not going to happen.''
Obviously Coelho was conceding the President's formidable political strength. But he wasn't throwing in the towel.