Reelection campaign revs up as it awaits Reagan's green light
Washington — With its thick burgundy carpeting, taupe walls, and subdued furnishings, the headquarters of the Reagan-Bush campaign committee seems an unlikely place for the hurly-burly of politics. But even in this Republican setting of restrained elegance, the atmosphere is beginning to crackle as the tempo of the reelection campaign picks up.
If there are any doubts that President Reagan will say anything but ''yes'' next Sunday, they are well hidden. In the modern offices on First Street, private phone lines have been installed to link the campaign center with radio stations across the country. Campaign workers are busy opening mail, clipping newspapers, recording contribution checks. The first 59 cases of ''Reagan-Bush ' 84'' bumper stickers - 450,000 of them - have arrived for distribution to the states. Some 250,000 buttons are on order.
Campaign committee director Edward Rollins and his political staff, meanwhile , are hard at work holding planning sessions, plotting strategy, and coordinating with the campaign committees set up in each of the 50 states. There is no complacency about the advantage that President Reagan has as an incumbent or about his current high approval rating. Political strategists are operating on the basis that it will take an all-out effort in every state to return Ronald Reagan to the White House for a second term. The race could be tight, and a strong campaign organization would therefore be crucial.
What is the main concern at the moment?
The ''biggest task,'' campaign operatives say, is to register more voters. Conscious of the effort the Democrats are making to sign up new voters, especially from among minorities and poor people, Reagan-Bush '84, as the committee is called, has launched a drive to register 2.5 million to 3 million more voters. Each state GOP organization has been assigned a target. Some $10 million has been earmarked for voter lists, phone banks, and other means of achieving the goal.
''The problem is identifying the Reagan supporters,'' an official says. In the six states of North Carolina, California, New Mexico, Texas, Florida, and Georgia, for instance, there are an estimated 650,000 unregistered military personnel, plus their spouses. With patriotism and pride in the military on the rise, campaign officials say they believe they can make a strong appeal to military people to register to vote, despite their frequent change of residence.
In contrast to the Democrats, who are the majority party and therefore register anyone they can, the Republicans feel they have to focus on specific groups. Otherwise they end up registering more Democrats than Republicans. Hence , efforts are also under way to reach Christian fundamentalists, Hispanics, Asian-Americans, and local businessmen and to broaden registration in areas where Reagan has had strong support.
Money appears to be no problem. After a single mailing in November, the committee received almost $3 million. ''That's an 8.5 percent return on our mail solicitation,'' an official says, ''and that is extraordinary.'' The average contribution, he adds, is $30 to $40, pointing to ''populist'' support for the President. Today the total intake is nearing $4 million. All told, 2.2 million people will be tapped by the fund-raising effort.
The Reagan-Bush committee plans to spend $21 million before the Republican convention in August. Some $16 million of this will come from solicitations and the remaining $5 million from federal matching funds. Under present law any candidate who raises $5,000 in each of 20 states qualifies to receive matching funds for donations of $250 or less. After the convention the President can expect $42 million from the US government in matching funds. The whole reelection campaign will thus cost some $63 million; $60 million was spent in 1980 to elect Mr. Reagan.
One of the committee's early problems was to bring rival factions in the Republican Party into the reelection effort.
In some states, such as Illinois, there were bitter struggles between the current GOP leadership and old Reaganites for control of the campaign organizations. By conferring an array of titles and co-chairmanships and deftly including everyone, the committee has managed to make peace in the Republican family. With its eye on the worrisome ''gender gap,'' the committee has also appointed women to share leadership in many states.
''There is room in the party for Republicans of various stripes,'' says Jim Lake, campaign press secretary. ''We want to demonstrate to Republicans and other voters that Reagan can be President of a wider range of ideas and concerns than just a narrow spectrum. So we're trying to bring in more moderate people while not abandoning our old friends.''
How Reagan will be used on the campaign trail is still being settled, campaign officials say. The biggest GOP advantage is seen to lie in just having him be President. But in view of Reagan's love of campaigning and his success at the art, he will not be confined to the Rose Garden. ''He'll be active,'' says an official, ''but he won't have to raise funds.''
Most of the hard campaigning will be done by surrogates, and planning now is under way for who goes where when. Among the prominent Republicans who will campaign for the President will be Treasury Secretary Donald Regan, Agriculture Secretary John Block, Tranportation Secretary Elizabeth Dole, Sen. Howard H. Baker, and Rep. Jack Kemp. Radio actualities - snippets of statements by these and other leading Republicans - are also being readied to start Sunday.
While there clearly are states where the Republicans do not expect to win - Massachusetts, for example - campaign officials say they are operating ''on a 50 -state basis.'' In the eight or 10 key states, including Texas, California, New York, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and North Carolina, efforts and resources will be determined by how the campaign goes and what the polls show. The industrial states of the Midwest, where Walter Mondale is backed by organized labor, are generally viewed as the battleground of the coming contest, but GOP officials point to polls showing that Reagan has ''tremendous potential'' among blue-collar workers. He won more than 40 percent of their vote in 1980.
''The rank and file shows tremendous support for Ronald Reagan in our polls, '' campaign committee director Rollins is quoted as saying in a recent interview. ''And even the Gallup Poll shows that a majority of union households support John Glenn as their candidate, as opposed to Walter Mondale. So I don't think the fact that Lane Kirkland and his people have endorsed Walter Mondale means that he's got the grass-roots labor support. We think we can get a significant labor vote.''
Nuts-and-bolts political strategy is in the hands of a group of eight people, including California adviser Stuart Spencer, presidential pollster Richard Wirthlin, former Transportation Secretary Drew Lewis, political consultant Charles Black, and several like Ed Rollins who moved over to the Reagan-Bush '84 committee from the White House.
The strategy group works in close liaison with White House Chief of Staff James A. Baker III and Deputy Chief of Staff Michael K. Deaver.
The reelection committee itself has a paid staff of about 100. At the moment it also relies on 10 to 35 volunteers a day - students, housewives, and others with time to give. Enthusiastic, optimistic, eager to be part of the political fray, these campaign workers show no concern about achieving their objective. One of them confidently puts it this way: ''Reagan's going to win, and he's going to win big.''