In traveling around the United States it isn't difficult to conclude that the President is well nigh unbeatable. National polls show that, too. But in conversations with Californians, a political writer is reminded of how tenuous political success is and how quickly a turnabout can take place.
Richard Nixon is an example of the ups and downs of political life. He traveled fast, from the House to the Senate to the vice-presidency. And many who covered the 1960 presidential race thought he was unbeatable.
But that was before the post-conventions debate, where that young fellow from Massachusetts, overnight, turned a runaway contest into a tight race which, of course, he eventually won by a whisker.
Nixon was no longer riding high and was soon beaten in a bid for governor of California. Then he went to New York to practice law. His political career seemed over.
But out of the ashes he fashioned a new presidential bid that took him all the way to the White House. It was a political resurgence that confounded the experts.
Nixon is way down again and no one needs to be reminded of what Watergate did to his career.
But with a new, fresh view of California one is forced to take another look at Ronald Reagan and remember that he is subject to the same laws of unpredictability that shape political life.
Reagan isn't in any trouble politically in California. One could easily project a good victory margin being given him by his fellow Californians next fall. It's predictable that state pride will bring him a lot of votes.
But there is an intensity of anti-Reagan feeling in his home state that would , it seems, require very little to become the catalyst of a majority that could give California to a Democratic presidential candidate.
Many Californians, even among those who voted for him, are convinced that Reagan is an inadequate President. They think he has no foreign policy and that his actions are ad hoc. They believe he has been a disaster in the environmental field. And they think the economy would have come around anyway without Reaganomics.
It is true that many Californians still glow from Reagan's personal warmth. But a substantial number have no personal regard for the President. They are mostly people who didn't like him when he was governor, who thought he was insensitive. But many Republicans in California have also come around to this same view - mostly GOP moderates.
Then there are the millions of California's Republican conservatives who think Reagan has abandoned them. They are among the leading critics of his inability to control the burgeoning budget deficit.
Some major negative happening could occur that would sink Reagan in California - perhaps the last state where one might expect it. No one should forget what the Iranian-hostage event did to Jimmy Carter. US involvement in the Mideast might, suddenly, result in a campaign-wrecking development for this President.
Or a decided dip in the economy could make Reagan vulnerable. It was just such an event - an unexpected increase in unemployment before the election - that hurt and perhaps defeated Nixon in his 1960 bid for the presidency.