It is Ronald Reagan's last all-out political drive as President of the United States. With appearances in Georgia, Alabama, and North Carolina yesterday, the President began the final week of a strenuous campaign that will take him to still another seven states across the country before election day Nov. 4.
The political stakes are high. Not only will the drive determine the political fate of Republicans in House, Senate, and gubernatorial races, thus providing a bellwether of the state of Republicanism in 1986; it will affect the last two years of the presidency and the degree to which Ronald Reagan is or is not a lame-duck President.
In his second term the President has already faced growing resistance on Capitol Hill to many of his policies -- from arms control to South Africa sanctions.
If the Republicans lose control of the Senate next Tuesday, the next two years will be doubly difficult for the White House -- a period in which the President seeks to reach an arms agreement with the Soviet Union, roll back communism in Central America, reform the welfare system, and pursue such legislative goals as a balanced-budget amendment and a line-item veto.
White House political strategists have planned minutely-orchestrated appearances designed to capitalize on the President's personal popularity and policies and give maximum media coverage to local candidates.
And, while the midterm campaign revolves around local issues and the character of individual candidates, the Reagan presence is viewed as beneficial in a number of respects:
It raises funds -- which are critical for races that have become costly television-ad battles.
It stimulates the GOP activists to knock on more doors and bring out more voters.
It puts the media spotlight on individual candidates.
It affects the ``near''-voter who has not made a commitment to go to the polls or who is not quite certain whether to vote Democratic or Republicans.
``The next seven days will be critical,'' says William I. Greener III, political director of the Republican National Committee. ``This is the closest election in a decade and, while Republicans will do well in the House and state legislatures, at stake is the control of a national legislature. What happens in the Senate will determine who can claim victory.''
No president in modern history has campaigned more energetically or effectively for a midterm election than Mr. Reagan has these past two years. He has visited some 25 states and, according to figures cited in the National Journal, raised more than $30 million in party and candidate campaign contributions.
As the campaign moves into its final phase, the President is sounding the twin themes that carried him through the 1980 and 1984 elections: national security and the economy.
Despite mounting public fears about the still-gargantuan budget and trade deficits and possible recession next year, Reagan is trying to capitalize on relatively good economic times. He is also harking back to what he calls the economic ``mess'' under the Carter administration.
GOP planners say that, despite economic distress in some states, there has not been a significant deterioration of GOP support. ``Republicans are running in an environment that does not put a millstone around their neck,'' Mr. Greener says.
On the ``keep American strong'' front, the President is stressing his efforts to negotiate with the Soviet Union and his refusal to bargain away the Strategic Defense Initiative, (SDI) or ``star wars.'' Polls show that the vast majority of Americans support SDI.
Because the issues in local races are parochial rather than national, it is not thought that state Republican candidates can simply ride the coattails of Reagan's popularity. Yet even a 1 or 2 percent swing in some areas, especially where Republican challengers are trying to oust Democratic incumbents, could tip the balance.
In California, for instance, GOP contender Ed Zschau, who is trying to unseat Democratic Sen. Alan Cranston, is having difficulty creating solidarity among the Republican base.
Many conservative Republicans are still less than enthusiastic about Mr. Zschau and have to be persuaded to rally around the GOP flag. Reagan will campaign in California on Friday and the Monday before election day.
Fund raising is especially important in the California race because of the frenzy with which the candidates are fighting a television-ad war.
``It's like the Russian front,'' says Mervin Field, the leading state pollster. ``People are running over each other to load the guns. The degree to which Reagan can do that -- people will loan money for TV knowing it will come back.''