The Mondale campaign - which needed to act fast to quell rising cynicism among California Democrats - plans to put its money where its mouth is in the state this week.
Ever since the July convention in San Francisco, Democrats have waxed skeptical that Mondale would bring his campaign to California in earnest. Typically, Democratic candidates for President raise much of their campaign money here, then spend it somewhere else, in effect conceding the state to the Republican candidate.
But the Mondale campaign now sees President Reagan's home state as winnable.
Mondale campaign manager Robert Beckel said Friday on a rare trip West that he had just finished drafting various electoral scenarios that could lead to a Mondale victory in November. On the basis of those scenarios, California has become a highly targeted state.
''We've looked at it every way - up, down, and sideways,'' Mr. Beckel says. Mondale can lose California and still win, he explains, but if the Democratic presidential candidate carries California, he will carry the election.
''Our single biggest problem is that this is the guy's [Reagan's] home state, '' Beckel says. ''But the home-state identification with Reagan is way down from what it was four years ago.''
He adds that new Democratic polls show Mondale within 10 percentage points of Reagan in California voter preferences. ''Right now, I have no question that we will be running and winning (in California) in November.''
The first step in the new Mondale strategy was to assign vice-presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro her first solo campaign trip - now under way - in California. (She canceled plans to attend the closing ceremonies of the Olympics Sunday when it was determined that her appearance could be a distraction.)
Interest in Ms. Ferraro was the most important factor in the Mondale campaign's optimistic reassessment of prospects in California. Beckel says that between them, Mondale and Ferraro will be taking ''four, five, six'' campaign swings to California.
During the next week, the Mondale campaign also plans spend $150,000 to open a state headquarters and name a full-time manager to run day-to-day operations.
Within the next few days California Democrats expect to get a much larger sum to help register 700,000 new voters. Assembly Speaker Willie Brown told Beckel Friday that state Democrats needed another $1 million for voter registration as the final two months of their drive begins. The Mondale organization has not yet committed itself to an exact amount.
All this, says Assemblywoman Maxine Waters, ''is a good sign.''
Mrs. Waters was Jesse Jackson's California chairwoman and a major strategist for the national Jackson campaign. Whether Mondale is serious about California, she says, will depend on who his campaign names as manager here - it has to be someone who can involve the many Gary Hart and Jackson supporters - and how much money it puts into California registration drives.
But the Democrats have to overcome some strong recent precedents. Reagan is undefeated in the state since 1967, when he became governor. A Democrat has not carried California in a presidential race since Lyndon Johnson did in 1964.