The Mood of the Voter

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The President and the former Governor seem far less concerned about resisting the temptation that worries Anderson; they have been zapping each other with increasing zing almost daily. The attacks are deliberate. "Reagan is the best standup performer in politics today," says John Sears, the campaign manager whom Reagan fired last February. "But the fact remains that Reagan's position in the polls is derived from what people think of Carter." Thus the central issue of Reagan's campaign will be to denigrate Carter's record. Despite his speaking skills, Reagan has, of course, been too busy trying to explain away a series of bloopers either to maintain a consistent attack on Carter's performance or to attract attention to the Republican policies that he has proposed.

Not only has Reagan fallen into uttering such needlessly provocative comments as advocating "official" governmental contacts with Taiwan, praising the Viet Nam War as "a noble cause," suggesting that Darwinism be countered by teaching the biblical story of creation as well, and terming the current recession "a severe depression," but his own advisers have jumped readily into the ensuing fray, like a Greek chorus of mourners, to concede in most cases that Reagan was wrong. Says Dean Burch, the senior adviser to Bush: "There is a possibility that the caricature of Reagan will become a reality. We have to guard against it."

While some of the impulsive Reaganisms may have pleased his more conservative supporters, they feed the doubts about his judgment that bother other voters. Thus the tense staff is trying to set up "fail-safe" systems to protect Reagan against Reagan. His aides are more carefully reviewing every speech text for pitfalls and insisting that the Governor just stick with the typed pages.

In addition, an outside heavyweight adviser—last week it was James Lynn, who headed Gerald Ford's Office of Management and Budget—will ride shotgun on the campaign planes to help Reagan. The staff itself, however, remains a problem: it is still far too disorganized. Says an old Reagan friend: "Ron doesn't know how to be tough with people. Sometimes he tolerates so-so performances."

More emphasis and money will go into Reagan's paid TV commercials. The budget was pegged last week at about $15 million, up $1 million from original plans, and seven spots (three five-minute and four 30-second plugs) have begun to be aired. They are slotted within, before or after such well-watched "family" shows as The Waltons, Guiding Light, Angle and ABC Friday Night Movie.

On TV, Reagan's delivery is warm, low key and artfully staged to project an air of sincerity. Contends Peter Dailey, Reagan's TV ad producer: "The camera can look into the soul. In Reagan's case, that's a big asset." While he has talked repeatedly about the need for the U.S. to regain nuclear superiority over the Soviet Union, prompting Carter to accuse him of "announcing that he would start an arms race," Reagan's TV pitch will be milder. Seated in an easy chair, he says disarmingly: "To preserve our peace and freedom, we must maintain a margin of safety —not numerical superiority ... but a balance."

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