Impressive. Powerful. Stunning. Convincing. Solid. The superlatives rained on Walter Mondale and his presidential campaign after his New York triumph - victory so big that it bemused both pollsters and pundits alike.
The 45 percent tally for Mr. Mondale swamped both Gary Hart (27 percent) and Jesse Jackson (26 percent), who found themselves only 25,000 votes apart and fighting for second place.
New York's primary clearly established the former vice-president as the Democratic front-runner once again.
The Mondale margin, in fact, was so large that Senator Hart could find himself in deep political waters unless he can quickly reverse the tide. Campaigns thrive on momentum and money - lots of money. The cash is pouring into the Hart headquarters in Washington at a rate of nearly $100,000 a day. But Mr. Hart needs another victory soon, or he could fall off the political wave that has carried him this far.
Hart's first chance to fight back will come in Pennsylvania next Tuesday. But his prospects for a win there are fraught with difficulties.
Further bad news. The presidential campaign goes into a three-week hiatus after Pennsylvania, with no other major-state contest until Texas in early May. This gives Hart little opportunity to score the quick comeback he needs.
And there's more, something even more serious. New York showed that Hart's basic political message - his theme of ''new ideas'' - is failing to rally voters. Specifically, Hart is failing to get his message out to the voters.
Why? Hart's advisers point to Mondale. By his constant attacks on Hart, Mondale has been able to keep the senator off balance. Hart, they say, must break through Mondale's rat-a-tat-tat of criticism and find a way to let voters know him better.
Interviews with more than 2,600 voters in New York by ABC News found that 38 percent of them felt they knew too little about Hart's positions on the issues to feel confident about voting for him.
In his rush to reach voters with his message, the senator has relied heavily on slogans and 30-second TV commercials, for which he spent about $1 million in this state. But that didn't go over very well with New Yorkers, either. Surveys found that more than one-fourth of the voters felt Hart paid too much attention to such gimmicks, and that style and image seemed more important to him than substance.
The senator, solemn after his loss, blamed Mondale's negative advertising that called Hart ''unsteady'' and ''untested.'' Hart reportedly refused to congratulate Mondale for the win.
Mondale, on the other hand, can probably take some time to bask in his victory. He had good reason afterward to say, ''I love New York.''
The victory here appeared to confirm that Mondale's basic strategy is correct.
First, that strategy calls for Mondale to run on the theme of ''experience.'' Every voter survey indicates that Mondale's years in state government, in the US Senate, and as vice-president are seen as his strongest asset.
Second, Mondale has been successful in his ads, and in debates, in derailing Hart's basic strategy. The Colorado senator's advisers say his ''new ideas'' theme has a lot more political appeal than ''experience.'' Their polls show it. But Mondale keeps throwing charge after charge at Hart, so that Hart must spend most of his tiwrzo //oelf.
Mondale, in effect, has set the agenda for the political debate for the past three weeks. And Hart doesn't yet know how to turn that around.
Mondale has other things to be happy about.
His ''Roosevelt coalition'' of labor, city dwellers, liberals, Roman Catholics, and minorities has begun to pull together. It's true that most blacks (more than 80 percent) are behind Mr. Jackson. But Mondale says that if he is the eventual nominee, he will have no problem getting their help. ''The black vote is not against me,'' he observes.
Mondale also showed here that he can compete effectively for the so-called Yuppie vote, the young urban professionals who have been rallying to Hart in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and some other states.
Mondale demonstrated in New York that the Yuppie vote isn't monolithic. He whipped Hart handily among young, well-educated, high-income Jewish voters. Since Jewish voters make up 25 percent of those who took part in New York's primary, Mondale wound up winning statewide among voters in the 30-to-40 age group, where Hart had done so well in the past.
Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, says that while the campaign could go on and on right into summer, he doesn't think that's likely now.
''I expect to see it pretty well resolved in another three or four weeks,'' he says.
Others share that view after New York. One reason: Mondale's victory here was no isolated win. Rather, it capped an impressive comeback after his New Hampshire loss.
Since Super Tuesday (March 13), Mondale has placed ahead of his competitors in primaries and caucuses in Delaware, Arkansas, Mississippi, Kentucky, Michigan , Puerto Rico, Illinois, Minnesota, Kansas, Virginia, the Virgin Islands, and New York.Hart has only Connecticut and a few small-state victories to talk about. (He did win the nonbinding primary Tuesday in Wisconsin, 46 percent to 42 for Mondale. Jackson received 10 percent. Caucuses will select the convention delegates Saturday.)
Meanwhile, Jackson got most of what he wanted out of New York. He got almost all of the black vote. He gave Hart a good run, even though Jackson didn't buy a single TV ad. And his ''rainbow coalition,'' although mostly black, did get a respectable 23 percent of the Hispanic vote and 21 percent of the Asian-American vote.