Walter Mondale's TV ads are pretty tough. So are Ronald Reagan's. But for real rock-'em, sock-'em political infighting, neither Mr. Mondale nor Mr. Reagan can match groups such as the Christian Voice Moral Government Fund.
Christian Voice is filling the airwaves with $2 million worth of television spots during this campaign. The ads blast the Mondale-Ferraro ticket for favoring abortion and pro-homosexual legislation. Geraldine Ferraro is singled out for being ''half owner'' of a company that ''leases space to one of the nation's largest distributors of hard-core pornography.'' (Ferraro aides deny the charge.)
On the liberal side, People for the American Way is pouring about $1 million into television to warn about new links between politicians and ''the religious demagogues.'' In a five-minute program, actor Martin Sheen warns that ''today a powerful group of extremists are using religion to manipulate political debate.''
The advertisements by People for the American Way make prominent use of the Rev. Jerry Falwell, president of the Moral Majority and a major Reagan supporter , as an example of religious zealotry.
In one ad, Mr. Falwell is shown saying: ''We have a threefold primary responsibility. No. 1, get people saved; No. 2, get them baptized; No. 3, get them registered to vote.''
Groups like Christian Voice and People for the American Way, without any official connection to the campaigns, can afford to run high-risk ads. They don't have the same concerns as Mondale or Reagan that going too far might create a backlash.
On Christian Voice's anti-Ferraro ads, for example, her campaign aides deny the charge that she is part-owner of a company that leases space to a pornography company. A campaign aide says the leasing company is actually partly owned by Ms. Ferraro's husband, John A. Zaccaro. Further, Mr. Zaccaro has ordered that the lease not be renewed when it expires in January 1985. Such niceties are lost, however, in the rough-and-tumble of the political wars.
Perhaps the most successful of the independent groups is the National Conservative Political Action Committee. During the current campaign, NCPAC is pouring an unprecedented $12 million, including fund-raising costs, into the race in behalf of the Reagan-Bush ticket. About $750,000 of that is going into TV spots.
Craig Shirley, communications director for NCPAC, says the $12 million could grow quickly ''if the numbers (the polls) start collapsing for Reagan. We could make a real rush at the end.''
Groups like NCPAC (on the conservative side) and People for the American Way (on the liberal side) take pot shots not only at political issues, but also at each other.
Mr. Shirley of NCPAC charges there is ''a lot of hypocrisy'' in the positions of TV producer Norman Lear and others behind People for the American Way on the issue of mixing politics and religion.
There have been all kinds of ''political preachers'' on the liberal side, such as the Rev. Robert F. Drinan and the Rev. William Sloane Coffin Jr., long before conservative preachers got into politics, Shirley says. Why didn't liberals complain about that?
At People for the American Way, a spokeswoman fires back that there is no comparison between what the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. or the Rev. Jesse Jackson did and what conservative preachers are doing. ''Dr. King, Jesse Jackson , and others did not say a person was anti-Christian because someone disagreed with them,'' the spokeswoman says. The attitude of ''the fundamentalist right'' is close to ''moral McCarthyism,'' she charges.
One reason that liberals tend to fume over conservative political action groups is that NCPAC and others appear to have far broader support - and bigger bankrolls - than anything the liberals can put forward. An official at the Democratic National Committee says he doesn't know of a single organization on the liberal side that has the resources of NCPAC, Christian Voice, or Fund for a Conservative Majority.
Labor unions, of course, are a major power on the Mondale side. But their work is technically confined to making appeals within their own membership. The dollar value of what the unions are doing isn't available in public reports, as it is with NCPAC; but there's little doubt that the unions are a strong and effective influence for the Democrats.
In the end, however, does all this work by outside groups - the TV ads, the radio spots, the full-page newspaper appeals, the direct-mail campaigns - really make a difference?
In once sense, it certainly seems to. The Fund for a Conservative Majority, for example, not only runs TV spots, but also has its own effort on the radio to harass the Democratic ticket. When FCM learns of Ferraro's schedule, for example , it sometimes runs ads in cities where she is appearing to remind voters of her stand on abortion.
''We dog both Mondale and Ferraro around the country,'' says FCM chairman Robert Heckman.
Experts such as Michael Robinson, who does media studies for George Washington University and the American Enterprise Institute, doubt these campaigns make much of a difference in the outcome of presidential races, however.
He says such influences as news shows, debates, newspaper and magazine articles (the ''free'' media), as well as major events such as wars or economic growth, are the real forces that shape the outcome of races for the White House - not television ads.
Where NCPAC, FCM, and others really can make a difference, the professor says , are in races for the US Senate and House. There's not as much free media there. As a result, the ads are more important - and can sometimes determine winners and losers.
The first story ran Oct. 15