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Johnson's Pledge

Brass Tacks

By Robert M. Krim

WHEN presidential aspirant Eugene J. McCarthy mentioned the "Johnson pledge card" in a New Hampshire speech Tuesday, his taciturn audience broke into loud applause. A sore point among Granite State Democrats, the pledge card is generating the kind of bitterness on which, as one McCarthy official put it, "an entire campaign can be built."

About 2000 Johnson supporters are circulating the cards among Democratic and Independent New Hampshire voters in the month remaining before the March 12 presidential primary. They pledge signers to support President Johnson and to write-in his name for the election. Tagged with serial numbers and the label of the New Hampshire Democratic Committee, they will provide a ready record of party members who break the fold.

The mechanics are simple. Each Johnson card has three parts, and each part has spaces for name and address. The first section notes parenthetically, "As an expression of your support, this card will be forwarded to the White House in Washington, D.C." One of the remaining sections goes to the Democratic State Committee Headquarters in Manchester, while the third section stays with the voter.

The cards are the brainchild of Bernard L. Boutin, an executive at Sanders Associates, a large New Hampshire-based firm. Boutin joined Sanders early last summer when he resigned the directorship of the Small Business Administration in Washington. Sanders, one of New Hampshire's largest firms, depends on government defense contracts for most of its business.

THE obvious fear of many Democrats is, as one put it, "if I don't sign this card, I will probably be barred from ever getting a Federal job here, and probably a state one also." Governor King flatly denies that the list will be used to discriminate against mavericks. But he adds, ominously, "We don't have many people; everyone knows each other; we don't need the card to determine who is pro-Johnson and who is against him."

Administration supporters deny Johnson or any of his aides had anything to do with the card. McCarthy is content with noting that at the very least, the Administration has created the political "atmosphere" which is forcing supporters to such extreme expressions of loyalty.

Last summer, the Wisconsin Democratic State Central Committee voted down a similar pledge card, calling the proposal undemocratic. Citing the Wisconsin decision, McCarthy commented early this week that the card "comes further to denying the people their right to a secret ballot than anything in the national history."

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