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Death Valley Went for Reagan

POLITICS

By Thomas S. Blanton

The vultures are hovering. The host of "Death Valley Days," a former B-movie actor named Ronald Reagan, is creeping through the desert, dazed by the blazing sun, in hot pursuit of a desperado. Ronnie sweats under the bright lights, shivers a little, and wilts in the heat. Reagan's trigger finger is itchy, but it's past time. The vultures are hovering.

The desperado Reagan was chasing in the Florida primary was only Gerry Ford, stumbling, bumbling, but still president--and staid Republicans love their incumbents. Reagan got his voters committed early--it looked like he was off to a steaming start--but the Republicans on the patios sat back undecided and finally, safely, went to Ford. Reagan wilted, 53-47.

Even the Wall Street Journal, which had editorialized for months against Ford's "misrepresentations" of Reagan's positions, saw the light and the Reagan fade. Two days ago, the Journal ran a full-column-plus article on the disintegration of Reagan's campaign strategy, with all sorts of desperate-sounding quotes from campaign managers.

On the Democratic side, Jimmy Carter won the Florida primary with the same "winner" tactics he's been using for a year now: don't say anything, don't take stands, don't offend anyone, smile. The polyester business people across Florida's midsection, centered on Disneyworld in Orlando, went for Carter because they perceived him as the candidate least likely to make changes.

Carter also took most of the liberal vote in Florida. It was a sad-and-sick-and-sunk-amongst-the-sharks liberal vote, but the idea was to stop Wallace, and stop Wallace they did. George Wallace drew only 31 per cent of the Democratic vote, against Carter's 34 in a state where he swamped the field with 42 per cent in 1972.

With Wallace and Carter, the story is their personalities. With Scoop Jackson, who has no personality, the only story is his money. Jackson ran for president in 1972, and raked in the campaign funds from American Jews (who like his hard line on detente and Soviet emigration), such home-state companies as Boeing, and old-line Democratic givers. Jackson kept up the fund-raising effort even after his 1972 campaign folded--so that he came into 1976 with more money than anyone else--most of it large gifts from before the Campaign Practices Act, which limited gifts to $5000, went into effect.

But the financial crunch is hard on candidates as well as on cities. Bayh has closed shop, Harris is suspending activity for two months to raise money, Udall is spending the next month before Wisconsin soliciting funds, Wallace owes hundreds of thousands to his direct-mail firm, Carter is out there hustling short on cash. Jackson is no exception--he had $1.5 million cash on hand as of February 1--on February 28 he had $260,000.

New York is the payoff--Jackson did well in Massachusetts, and about as expected in Florida--but will Moynihan's endorsement play in Rochester? More than one liberal Democrat is worried about Jackson's foreign policy--their line is that Scoop's the one to start World War III. Jackson still has some liabilities from his bald-eagle stance of the Vietnam years. And yesterday three labor leaders, including Victor Gottbaum in New York, former Bayh campaigners, came out for Udall.

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