Askew for president: Floridian's run evokes memories of Carter
Miami — Reubin Askew's race for the White House inevitably leads to some comparisons: * Mr. Askew comes from a Southern state (Florida) where he was once the governor before he began his campaign for the presidency. So did Jimmy Carter when he ran eight years ago.
* Askew is a Democrat, a moderate on economic issues, a liberal on racial issues. So was Mr. Carter.
* Askew, just five months before the first primary, stands at the bottom of the polls and is given little chance of victory by political experts. So was Carter.
* Askew's campaign strategy centers on tight financial planning and meticulous organization in a few key states. So did Carter's.
On top of all this, Askew has carefully studied the Carter campaign, and is occasionally getting advice from a couple of former Carter stalwarts, Phil Wise and Frank Moore.
Right there, however, the comparisons should probably stop. For there are certainly as many Carter-Askew differences as similarities.
When Jimmy Carter was elected, Robert Shogan, a correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, wrote the book ''Promises to Keep: Carter's First 100 Days'' - a reference to Carter's many commitments to different groups during the campaign.
Askew takes a different tack. In fact, he shuns large groups like the AFL-CIO or the National Education Association. He winces when he hears Walter Mondale or Alan Cranston promise billion-dollar programs. ''If you're going to tell everybody what they want to hear,'' Askew told the Monitor, ''then what's going to be left of you?
''The one thing I'm determined about is that I'm not going to have an identity crisis to be elected president of the United States. I'm going to know who I am, and I'm going to get there in such a way that my hands will be free to represent the people of the United States.''
Askew had such freedom as governor - and he used that freedom to take some controversial stands. In a state long dominated by a conservative ''Pork Chop Gang'' of rural county senators, Governor Askew cajoled, persuaded, and debated in favor of racial integration, a corporate income tax, severance taxes on industry, tough environmental laws, and judicial reform. In eight years, he was seldom defeated, and he left office as popular as when he entered.
His legislative victories in Tallahassee were almost as unlikely as his election to the top job. He comes from the sparsely populated Florida Panhandle, where he was raised under conditions some might call poverty. But he grew up to love the area of white sand beaches, palmettos and piney woods, sunshine and sea.
According to those who have known both Carter and Askew, the former Florida governor is a warmer, more outgoing person, which could make him a different kind of chief executive. Nor is Askew running against the Washington establishment, as Carter did in those post-Watergate days of 1976. In fact, Askew served for a time in Washington (in the Carter Cabinet).
He does, however, appear to share a Carter-like determination as he chases the political rainbow despite a lot of gloomy predictions by experts. Says one analyst here:
''Somehow, no matter how I try, I just can't take the Askew campaign seriously.''
So is Askew just wasting his time? Can a little-known ex-governor, though popular in his own region, compete with a former vice-president like Walter Mondale, who has the backing of Big Labor, or a popular senator like John Glenn, who has credentials as a genuine superhero of the US space program?
The Askew team, headed by campaign manager Jim Krog here in Miami, contends that they can.
Their strategy centers on money management, organization, and ''candor.'' It also includes what has been called a ''media hydrogen bomb'' - using his cash hoard early next year to pay for an explosion of ads on TV in key primary states.
The first step is money management.
''Henry Jackson (who was beaten by Carter) told me personally that the most important factor in the 1976 primary campaign was money management,'' Askew says.
Money management translates: ''Live frugally. Save your cash until it will do the most good. Don't peak too early in the polls.''
The Miami office is a picture of frugality. When a reporter telephones the national headquarters here to say that he is having trouble finding it, the receptionist says:
''Keep going on the street you are on. Drive past all the big new apartment buildings and the beautiful homes. Then, when you notice the neighborhood has turned sort of crummy, that's where we are.''
Campaign manager Krog says one reason the headquarters is still here is to save cash. The rent is just $3,000 a month. And volunteers are readily available to answer phones and do other jobs in Askew's home state.
Today, of the six Democratic candidates (seven if George McGovern runs), only Glenn, Mondale, and Askew are in the black. And while Mondale's overhead is running about $750,000 a month, and Glenn's about $450,000, the Askew campaign is spending only about $100,000 a month.
By early next year, the plan goes, Askew will have about $2 million for a media blitz and other expenses in the early primaries.
Organization is another priority. The focus is on early states - and Askew got into New Hampshire and Iowa many months ago to put his local teams together. At a straw ballot this summer in Manchester, N.H., Askew's local team turned out 1,066 people - a showing the Washington Post called ''significant'' in a state where only 111,000 people voted in the last Democratic presidential primary.
The step-by-step plan, starting next February:
Week No. 1: In the Iowa caucuses, do ''better than expected'' so that the media will have to take Askew seriously. That won't be easy, Krog concedes, because Mondale has ties there (''He delivered papers in northern Iowa as a kid'') and Big Labor is for Mondale. But Askew has five of his 15 field workers in Iowa full time, and he has gone back again and again to meet with small groups of Democratic voters to become better known at the grass-roots level.
Week No. 2: In New Hampshire, finish at least near the top. ''We have one of the best organizations there,'' Krog says. ''Further, something that isn't often noticed, Southern candidates have been winning in New Hampshire going back to 1948. It's basically a conservative state. It's small towns. It's very individualistic. . . . There are all sorts of possible scenarios, but if Glenn slips in Iowa, he could slide in New Hampshire.''
Week No. 3: Victory in Florida, and, Krog hopes, elsewhere on ''Super Tuesday ,'' March 13. On that day there will also be primaries in Alabama and Georgia, along with Massachusetts and Rhode Island. The country could wake up Wednesday morning to find Askew with more delegates than any other candidate. The result: momentum that could be hard to stop.
Helping to bring all this about, Askew hopes, will be candor in dealing with the issues. His style is to search out small groups of voters where he can look them in the eye and - quite often - tell them something they might not like to hear. Such as:
''We have to make some adjustments in this country. A lot of people are enjoying artificially high wages in industries that cannot be competitive. . . . We're going to have to make some adjustments in our compensation packages. . . .
''The problem recently is that management has asked labor to do things, but they've not set an example. One of the reasons, I think, that Frank Borman was successful in keeping Eastern (Airlines) alive . . . was that Borman sets an example. He lives a comfortable, but also an austere, life. . . .''
Askew knows what a really austere life style is. He was born in Oklahoma, and soon after, his parents were divorced. His mother, impoverished, with six children, moved to Pensacola, Fla., when Reubin was 9. His mother supplemented their income by baking and selling cakes and pies, which Reubin delivered door to door.
Askew attributes the fact that he neither smokes nor drinks to his upbringing. In his public and private life he has a reputation for being an absolute straight arrow. (Critics like to call him ''Reubin the Good.'')
As the primaries draw closer, Askew's stands on the issues will come into better focus. He chuckles when he sees others try to characterize his positions:
''In Florida, you know, every time I ran, my opponents said that I was just too liberal. I run nationally, and people say, 'Well, you're just too conservative.' ''
And then he adds, with a slightly moral tone for which he is so well known in Florida:
''You know, I've never been concerned about labels because I don't intend to let any label intimidate me. . . . I think you do what you think is right and then you take your chances. . . . And if I can sufficiently articulate this to the American people, and I think I can, I may surprise you.''