GOP says Ferraro no longer 'drives' Democrats forward

Republicans, only weeks ago perplexed about how to deal with a woman vice-presidential opponent, are sighing with relief and barely disguised glee. ''Saint Geraldine is now back to earth,'' said Ed Rollins, director of President Reagan's reelection campaign. Speaking to reporters at breakfast yesterday, he began by announcing that he has instructed the campaign workers to stay out of the controversy over Rep. Geraldine Ferraro's financial disclosures.

But having said that, Mr. Rollins proceeded to wade into the issue. ''I think that she certainly has ample charges that she needs to respond to,'' he said shortly before Ms. Ferraro was to release full details of her family's finances and tax records.

The White House political chief depicted the Ferraro campaign as already irreparably harmed by the financial questions. Even if she ''can get her problems resolved and move forward, she's not quite the factor that she was a few weeks ago,'' he said.

A little more than a week ago, a spokesman for House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill Jr., one of Ferraro's most powerful Democratic supporters, remarked of the vice-presidential nominee, ''She's the life of the party.''

Polls taken by the Reagan-Bush reelection campaign to measure short-term changes in public sentiment indicate that Ferraro's candidacy alone gave the Democratic ticket its boost following the party convention last month in San Francisco.

As Rollins sees it, Ferraro is no longer driving the ticket forward. Because of Ferraro, he said, more people ''are going against them (the Mondale-Ferraro ticket) than going for them.

''The key thing is the direction, and the direction is going backwards.''

The White House political adviser warned that his party runs the danger of making the attacks on Ferraro appear partisan. ''We just sit back at this stage and let people review'' the Ferraro documents, he said.

Meanwhile, the issue plays into the GOP's hand, since a mainstay of the Reagan campaign is the theme that he provides steadier leadership. There's no question that presidential nominee Walter Mondale ''has to be held accountable'' to the ''fact that there wasn't very close scrutiny, apparently, of his running mate,'' Rollins said.

Rollins predicted Ferraro would remain on the ticket, while adding that she will have a major public-image problem. ''Geraldine Ferraro went from a 2 percent name identification to a 90 percent'' almost overnight, he said. ''The American public does not have a very hard idea of what she is.''

Moreover, he held that once her family's total wealth is publicized, it will cast a shadow on Democratic charges that the Republican Party has the richest candidates.

Other Republicans are more cautious when they discuss the Ferraro financial problem. ''It probably took a little of the glitter away,'' says Betty Heitman, co-chair of the Republican Party.

Rep. Claudine Schneider (R) of Rhode Island refrained from criticizing her colleague before the details of her finances were made public. ''I don't think it was a setback for women'' running for national office, she said of the Ferraro problems. Of Ferraro's failure until now to disclose her husband's business activities, she added: ''Members of Congress often grope at anything to maintain personal privacy,'' but that disclosure is ''part of the job.''

Despite the difficulties of the Ferraro candidacy, the Democratic Party's efforts to capitalize on its recent popularity with women has already had effects on the GOP convention. Women are spotlighted as never in the past. Nearly half of the delegates are female, compared with less than 30 percent four years ago.

Katherine D. Ortega, who holds the largely ceremonial post of United States Treasurer, was picked to be the keynote speaker; other women, too, have been put in high-profile roles during the Dallas meeting.

Some GOP women do not deny the appearance of tokenism. ''The women being used in this convention may be tokens,'' says Representative Schneider. ''But my feeling is, who cares?'' She says the roles at least give women a ''foot in the door.''

GOP officials are attempting to minimize their problems with women, pointing to polls that show a plurality of women prefer Reagan. They also point to the strong approval of Reagan by men, who prefer him over the Democratic nominee by up to 60 percent.

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