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Reagan candidly proclaimed his reason for opening this phase of his campaign in Hudson County, N.J. "I'm here because it's the home of Democrats," he said. "In this great country there are millions of Democrats as unhappy as we are with the way things are going." Honoring the generations of immigrants, Reagan, in top oratorical form, once again evoked the words of a Democratic President by putting a twist on a Jack Kennedy line: "They didn't ask what this country could do for them, but what they could do to make this refuge the greatest home of freedom in history. But today a President of the U.S. would have us believe that dream is over, or at least in need of change."
Reagan flew on to Detroit, traditional site of Labor Day speeches by Democratic candidates, and visited nearby Allen Park to grill sausages in the backyard of Emil Petri, a steelworker (and a Republican) who had invited over 20 neighbors to meet the candidate. Many of the guests were laid-off autoworkers and steelwork ers, the kind of blue-collar Democrats Reagan hopes to lure away from Carter.
So far, so good, and then, once again, Reagan botched it. At the Michigan State Fair, he launched another attack on Carter and went too far. "Now, I'm happy to be here," he said, "while he [Carter] is opening his campaign down in the city that gave birth to and is the parent body of the Ku Klux Klan."
Thud. By linking the President with the Klan, Reagan not only outraged Carter's supporters but offended no less than seven Southern Governors, who fired off wires protesting that Reagan had insulted the South. The President promptly jumped on the blunder: "I resent very deeply what Ronald Reagan said about the South and about Alabama and about Tuscumbia. Anybody who resorts to slurs and to innuendo against a whole region based on a false statement and a false premise is not doing the South or our nation a good service." Indeed, Reagan had compounded his mistake by getting his facts wrong; Tuscumbia is merely the headquarters of a branch of the Klan. Reagan apologized by telephone to Alabama Governor Forrest ("Fob") James, and once again his aides sheepishly tried to explain that their boss had not really meant what he said.
All three candidates also paid homage last week to the Jewish vote that could prove critical in such states as New York, Florida and Illinois. The three pledged such rousing and unqualified devotion and support for Israel in speeches to B'nai B'rith in Washington that they all received standing ovations.
Reagan's pitch was the most pointed. He assailed Carter for the failure of the U.S. to veto a U.N. resolution condemning Israeli expansionism, charged that the Carter-negotiated Camp David documents contained "ambiguities" that "have now brought negotiations to a dangerous impasse" and drew his most fervent applause by declaring that "Jerusalem is now and will continue to be one city, undivided, with continuing free access for all."