The Mood of the Voter

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In turn, Carter stoutly defended his Middle East policy, noting last week's announcement that Sadat and Begin had agreed to resume talks, and declared: "There will not be one policy for an election year and another after the election. The same policy that led to Camp David and an uninterrupted supply of American economic and military aid to Israel will continue as long as I am President." But he admitted: "I cannot assure you we will always agree with every position taken by the government of Israel."

The tone of an increasingly acrimonious campaign rose in pitch again as Reagan assailed Carter in the strongest terms so far. He cited recent news stories about a newly developed technique for shielding aircraft and other weapons against detection by enemy radar. Before a cheering audience of businessmen in Jacksonville, Reagan claimed this had been "the most tightly classified, most highly secret weapons information since the Manhattan Project." Disclosure normally would be illegal, he said. But he charged that "the breach of secrecy was blessed and sanctioned by the Carter Administration itself clearly for the sole political purpose of aiding Mr. Carter's troubled campaign." As a result, the Soviet Union has been handed "a ten-year head start on developing ways to counter this type of ultrasophisticated weapons system."

Defense Secretary Harold Brown angrily denied that the leaks about the defense technique were politically motivated. Responding to the Reagan blast, Press Secretary Jody Powell declared: "Any implication that the President or Secretary of Defense acted in a manner which damaged the security of this country is wrong and not responsible and goes beyond the acceptable grounds of political partisanship. Governor Reagan doesn't know what he's talking about."

With each candidate so eagerly on the attack so early, the 1980 presidential campaign could swing on a single event in such a volatile year. If held, the debates could turn the trick — perhaps even the very first one. But the candidates are all anxiously looking over their shoulders, wondering when lightning might strike. The Reaganites talk nervously, and sarcastically, of an "October surprise," some international event that Carter will be able to exploit as the incumbent.

As skirmishes ended and the battle was joined last week, Mondale summed up the long struggle to come succinctly, laconically and with a touch of world-weary realism. "Six weeks and 200,000 miles to go," he said. And all of it uphill for every man in the race.

—By Ed Magnuson. Reported by Christopher Ogden/Washington and Laurence I. Barrett/Washington

* The study was based on a national sample of 1,644 registered voters interviewed between Aug. 26 and 28. The sampling error is thus plus or minus 3% and 4.5% when comparing present trend readings with previous TIME studies.

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