Alaska to Carolina, super Saturday caucuses next; Oklahoma: Reagan country, but Hart country as well
| El Reno, Okla.
Will pro-Reagan Democrats switch? After Democratic Sen. David Boren, the President is the most popular man in the state of Oklahoma. Unseating him in November would therefore be something of a political miracle.
But then - so was the strong showing of Gary Hart in Tuesday's caucuses.
Oklahoma is not a pivotal state for Ronald Reagan. But it is an interesting bellwether of whether traditional, conservative Democrats who voted Republican in the 1980 presidential race will return to their root political loyalties.
Clearly, something is stirring because of the Hart candidacy. Only 13,000 registered Democrats participated in caucuses in 1980. More than double that number may have turned out Tuesday night for the boisterous gatherings across the state.
If nothing else, democracy has been given a nudge. ''That's the biggest story ,'' comments Thomas Hoog, a national field representative for the Hart campaign. ''Hart has gotten people excited.''
''It was an excellent turnout,'' says Democratic Party chairman James Frasier. ''That shows there is disappointment with Reagan and his policies.''
But it is a long way from momentary excitement to solid support for a Democratic candidate in November. Reagan has a 63 percent approval rating in the state. The question is whether Hart, if he gains strength as the caucus process proceeds, can project himself on the issues as he has on ''image'' and persuade Oklahomans to vote Democratic in a presidential race for the first time since 1964.
Some Democrats are clearly ready to change their presidential vote.
Samplings of opinion in this predominantly Democratic town west of Oklahoma City, surrounded by farmlands, show at least a degree of disenchantment with Reagan.
''I voted for Reagan in 1980 but not this time,'' says Charlotte Cooper, an office worker. ''He's tried to strengthen the economy but he's cut in the wrong places - help for people who are dependent on social security and disability. My husband's disabled so I know.''
''Reagan's too much for the rich - he's a rich man's president,'' says Eva Wood. ''I voted for him last time but not again.''
''I thought he'd be for the middle class and the poor but they've suffered the most,'' says a young mother. ''My husband and I will change our vote this time.''
A dozen or so brief conversations are not sufficient to draw any conclusions. Many political observers in the state say that, even though Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 3 to 1, it will be an uphill battle for any Democratic candidate to carry the state against Reagan.
But the soundings do suggest that Oklahomans are open to other possibilities. Farmers in the panhandle, for instance, who are frustrated with Reagan's agricultural policies, went heavily for Hart on Tuesday.
Mostly, however, people seem undecided and want to know more about Hart. Answering questions about him has preoccupied the senator's hastily put - together campaign drive in Okalahoma.
''I'm not a big Reagan fan, espcially after the mess in Lebanon,'' says local barber Kenneth Swaim. ''But Hart hasn't been brought out a whole lot yet. I'm a thinking person and I'll buy a man if he presents himself well.''
Remarks a television station owner from Ponca City who voted for Carter in 1980: ''I want to know more about Hart. He's not told me anything yet. . . . He has no track record. But I'm listening.''
''Hart needs to be more specific instead of just playing to the headlines and the media,'' says salesman Robert Blackshear of the town of Bethany, a registered Republican. ''I have a problem with Reagan and the deficits, and I haven't made up my mind. But Hart's the Golden Boy now - and personality shouldn't run this country. Hart has to get over the cliches.''