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For all the candidates, last week was a time to put the varied theories of their strategists to the test. Determined to dominate the Old Confederacy once again, Carter perspired in shirtsleeves amid some 25,000 Labor Day picnickers in a dusty, red-dirt park in Tuscumbia, Ala. He strummed all the Southern heartstrings he plays so lovingly. He enjoyed the music of Country Stars Charlie Daniels and Larry Gatlin, and shared the stage with former Alabama Governor George Wallace. He told how he had toured the Gettysburg battlefield with his friends Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin, and how it reminded him that "we Southerners believe in the nobility of courage on the battlefield, and because we understand the cost of war, we also believe in the nobility of peace." Carter's not so subtle point: he has worked for arms control, while Reagan encourages an arms race.
Well aware that a dozen Ku Klux Klan members were watching in silent, white-sheeted protest some 20 yds. away, Carter drew rebel applause with a deft putdown. "These people in white sheets do not understand our region and what it's been through," he said. "They do not understand that the South and all of America must move forward." Noting that the Klan had burned a cross in the town the night before, Carter said softly: "The One who was crucified taught us to have faith, to hope, not to hate, but to love one another."
A few hours later, Carter was the genial host at a far different kind of picnic: a shindig on the South Lawn of the White House for some 800 labor leaders and their wives. Desperately in need of labor support, Carter last week was rewarded with the endorsement of the diminished but still influential AFL-CIO.
Yet Carter's most symbolic act of the week was a visit to Independence, Mo., where he held a town meeting in Truman High School and smiled at signs that said: HARRY WOULD LOVE JIMMY and JIMMY CARTER, THE TRUMAN OF THE '80s. He visited the Truman Library, placed red roses on Truman's grave and paid an eight-minute call on ailing Bess Truman, the former President's 95-year-old widow. "When I take a step that's not very popular," Carter said at the town meeting, "I think of the unpopularity that Harry Truman had to suffer before he was finally vindicated."
Reagan, meanwhile, was making a strong pitch for ethnic votes in a Labor Day setting redolent of America's heritage. In New Jersey's Liberty Park, he shed coat and tie to speak before a backdrop containing the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and the skyline of lower Manhattan. Scarlet-clad Korean girls sang God Bless America; an Irish war-pipe band in kilts played martial music from the homeland of Reagan's ancestors; and Polish dancers stepped out gracefully in their peasant regalia. Reagan's main coup was to present Stanislaw Walesa, 64, the father of the leader of the workers' protest in Poland, to the cheering crowd. Walesa, who lives in Jersey City, is not a U.S. citizen and has no political preferences. No matter. He helped Reagan by joining in a chorus of God Bless America.