The Mood of the Voter

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The basic Reagan geographical strategy remains unchanged. His aides estimate his firm base in the West will produce about 150 electoral votes. East of the Mississippi, such states as Indiana, New Hampshire, Vermont and Virginia are seen as reasonably safe, giving him another 30 votes, just 90 short of election. Even if Carter should hold the Deep South, which is far from certain, Reagan will look for his victory margin in five targeted states: Ohio, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Texas and Florida. They have 121 electoral votes, and if Reagan can win just the largest three, he should wind up in the Oval Office. Thus nearly 40% of his currently scheduled campaign time (49 days of travel and 95 major appearances) will be devoted to these five states.

At the moment, Reagan's aides consider his home state, California, safe enough to be downplayed a bit. New York looks fairly solid for Carter, but with the President being increasingly whittled away there by Anderson, the Californian may step up his efforts to win the state's 41 electoral votes. Anderson's prospects of taking more votes from Carter in New York will be strengthened if, as expected, he gets a place on the state's Liberal Party ballot.

As for the Carter staff, it has been astonished by its candidate's catch-up in the polls. Chortled one aide last week: "That Reagan is doing our work for us." Other advisers are more cautious. Campaign Manager Robert Strauss professes to be worried that Carter's rally will generate overconfidence. Says he: "I don't think Reagan necessarily is dumb. I don't think he is going to get us into atomic warfare. I don't think he is evil. He's a very likable, attractive man." But Strauss pinpoints Carter's re-election strategy: to portray Reagan as "simplistic" and "not equipped to be President."

Proud of his presidential performance, Carter intends to play up his record. Still, the President's main theme will be to attack Reagan. Sums up Hamilton Jordan, Carter's chief strategist: "We can have a philosophical discussion about all the issues that face the American people, but the fact is the American people face a choice: Jimmy Carter or Ronald Reagan."

Strauss long ago correctly guessed that Reagan's advisers would limit his public appearances. Says Strauss: "They're going to try to show just a little bit of leg, but not enough to get him into trouble." By contrast, Carter will join the rough-and-tumble exchange of town meetings and press interviews, where he has invariably been at his best. Contends Strauss: "The public likes very much to see the President in the flesh, nonstructured and nonpackaged. He likes it too."

The Carter television campaign will stress his heavy responsibilities as President and portray him as being deeply concerned about the particular problems of unemployed blue-collar workers and older people. To tape his commercials, Carter has slipped quietly into a suburban Alexandria, Va., home to chat with eight housewives in a backyard. He has eluded the press to go to a construction site in Maryland to listen to workers, and he has visited a senior citizens' center in the District of Columbia.

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