White House watch

THE view from my third-floor office window usually affords me a glimpse of the White House. During Watergate, I used to imagine I could see President Nixon pacing back and forth behind the window in his private living quarters. But today the clouds were heavy and the rain falling, the view almost nonexistent. It reminded me of how difficult it was to distinguish what was going on in the political world these days.

Two political sages talk to us on nearly successive mornings. John P. Sears, with distinct GOP ties, sees a Republican resurgence in the fall campaign. He thinks the Republicans will keep their hold on the Senate. Paul Kirk, the equally youngish political man who heads the Democratic Party, sees it just the other way: that the Democrats will gain a margin of two or three seats in the Senate and pick up 10 or so seats in the House.

Would we really expect them to say otherwise?

Oh, yes, there are hard-fought races out there. And there are polls which do, to be sure, tell who is ahead. Indeed, the one certain reality of this campaign is that personalities are far overshadowing issues.

And the particularly heavy infusion of money into this election is making a lot of voters wonder whether it's the best man (or woman) or the best fund-raisers and fund receivers who are going to win.

But what makes it so difficult to assess this campaign is the apparent lack of interest among the electorate. How can one tell what the voter is thinking about the elections when he is obviously looking elsewhere? Mr. Kirk confirms this voter attitude.

Looking through the clouds at this cloudy election, I have come to these conclusions:

The President's campaigning for GOP candidates might, in the end, save the Senate for the Republicans. Kirk concedes Mr. Reagan's role could make a difference.

In this same vein, it is interesting to note that Kirk talks of the Democrats as being the party that ``cares'' for people, that it is the party that is compassionate. But while he frequently charges the Republicans as lacking this caring quality, he won't come close to saying that Reagan is the non-caring leader.

Obviously, the Democrats have concluded that attacking this popular President would be counterproductive.

There is a kind of sadness about this campaign. Some of this is because of the heavy infusion of money. In addition, it's linked to the advertisements that many candidates are using against their opponents. Many are taking the low road. But what is particularly sad to report is the failure of so many of the candidates to discuss the major issues -- war and peace, the economy. Instead, this has been a campaign of charges and countercharges -- of generalities and simplification. Oh, yes, this is the stuff of most campaigns, but apparently much more so this time than in recent years.

Presidential politics is in the background. These last two Presidents, Reagan and Jimmy Carter, were governors. People seem to like having an ``outsider'' in the White House. They appear to feel that someone living away from Washington is more likely to represent the interests of all Americans.

Thus, it is very possible that one or both parties will be electing a governor who will be a presidential nominee in '88. Gov. Mario Cuomo would boost his prospects by an impressive victory. And so would Gov. James Thompson of Illinois -- for the GOP nomination.

Mr. Sears is known for his savvy on presidential politics. He thinks Vice-President George Bush will be eliminated in the early primaries, with the race probably being between Robert Dole and Jack Kemp -- with Paul Laxalt, perhaps, getting into the thick of it. He says that Bush will be unable to separate himself from the views and mistakes of Reagan and that this will prove too big a burden for him to carry.

On the Democratic side, Sears likes Mr. Cuomo's chances and thinks he could get elected by going all out to win the Northern industrial states and forgetting about the South.

He thinks Gary Hart has ``had it.''

Godfrey Sperling Jr. is the Monitor's senior Washington columnist.

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