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DETROIT--By the beginning of the week, things were already getting pretty silly at the Republican National Convention here. A "Betty Boop for President" movement had been parading around Cobo Hall with its candidate since Sunday, and inside a bearded fellow wearing tails insisted that he, Mark Twain, not Ronald Reagan, deserved the GOP's backing.
Ignoring a four-foot spray-painted "NO REAGUN" (sic) message, which appeared on the front of the convention hall despite 24-hour police protection, the messiah from the West marched into Cobo and reminded his disciples, "This is a crusade, not a campaign."
Not more than two blocks away from the 1980 Republican Love-In, another political party watched the week's festivities with a condescending smirk as it readied itself for the November showdown. The leaders of the National Unity Campaign--Michigan division for Rep. John B. Anderson (R-III.)--insist that it was only a coincidence that they opened their Detroit headquarters last Saturday, two days before their former bedmates hit town and just in time to absorb the overflow of media coverage seeping through the walls of Cobo Hall.
"Naturally we're pleased by the fortunate timing of our arrival here in Detroit," says Lorraine Beebe, the coalition's state coordinator in Michigan.
"But it really was a matter of chance; we were hunting for a place for quite a while, found this one and moved in as soon as possible."
Two weeks ago the store front on West Congress St. that now boasts brilliant red and white bunting and the omniscient countenance of John Bayard Anderson looked like many others in Detroit--broken glass, beer bottles and splintered plywood showcased behind a smudged display window.
Last Saturday Beebe and her troopers were making phone calls and receiving visitors in a gleaming, air-conditioned office, complete with Bunn-o-matic coffee makers and an offering of Anderson t-shirts, buttons and frisbees. "We work fast," says Beebe with a smile.
Unlike many of her younger colleagues, Beebe is no newcomer to serious politics. A former state senator and director of consumer affairs in Michigan, this energetic grandmother skips the usual P.R. hype, preferring to outline what she sees as Anderson's challenging, but not unpassable, trail to the Oval Office.
Her first concern is success in Michigan's biennial primary, which falls this year on August 5: "The vote itself is not really important, but we see it as a dry run for November, when our candidate will be considered more of a real alternative. Now we can find the soft spots in our campaign and firm them up."
The ongoing battle to get Anderson's name on enough state ballots for the general election--he is on eight thus far--does not worry, Beebe: "Sure that's a hurdle we must leap, but I think it's crucial that we look very hard toward the main confrontation in the fall. We'll get the signatures for sure." Beebe and company had little trouble filling their own petition sheets, but they must wait until after the August 5 primary before celebrating Michigan's official elevation to the status of a "safe" state. Anderson must receive about 4500 votes next months to qualify for the general election.
Once the dust settles from the conventions and autumn winds chase away Detroit's stifling summer humidity, Beebe predicts a drastic change in the three-way presidential race. "We will pick up many of the Republicans who realize they can't support Reagan and many of the Democrats who realize the same thing about Carter. Our candidate will become a serious contender very quickly...very, very quickly." Beebe adds, "What we hear less and less of is, 'Who is this John Anderson?' That's really gratifying."
Although it is almost 8 p.m. as Beebe speaks, curious pedestrians are still dropping in to look around. One mustachioed visitor, quickly identified by staffers as Kurt Vonnegut, chats amiably for about ten minutes before signing autographs and leaving. "That was Kurt Vonnegut, the author. He just walked right in," bubbled Tina Rosenberg, a 20-year-old press aide.
Rosenberg fits the Andersonite stereotype far better than the matronly Beebe. Wide-eyed and inexperienced, Rosenberg sees Anderson not only as an alternative to two retread candidates, but also as a savior for the entire American political system.
"He is by far the most exciting thing in politics in this country in a long time. His candidacy questions the two party system at a very basic level. It jolts us into the realization that a major change is needed," she says.
Ed Turanchik, Anderson's State Field Coordinator in Michigan, elaborates more coolly on the possibility of a political realignment comparable to the one which brought Franklin Delano Roosevelt to power in 1932 and solidified the New Deal Coalition.
"We could see new lines drawn on the political spectrum. People like me would become active members of the Republican party, and that party would have to take on a new character," says Turanchik, a young man who ditched his nearly finished Ph.D. research in zoology to work for Anderson full-time.
What seems completely missing from these and other endorsements of Anderson is an understanding of the magnitude of the born-again conservative movement that is fast weaving its way throughout the Republican party. Turanchik calls Reagan "a joke, a person without common sense who is living in a pseudo-reality."
But while the would-be zoologist deployed bumper stickers and plotted campus rallies this week, the man he calls "a joke" has received nearly unanimous backing for his traditional right-wing views from all segments of the Republican party. And above all, the GOP appears determined to remain just that, the Grand Old Party--no realignments, no changes.
Faced with these unsettling realities, Turanchik and his cohorts defensively fall back on Anderson's surprisingly good showings in recent polls. Surveys have shown the Illinois congressman garnering as much as 20 per cent of the vote and Reagan winning more than a third of the vote to beat President Carter by several percentage points.
Of all the samplings the Anderson folks like to brag about, the ABC News-Louis Harris survey released last month is their favorite. Harris said on June 19 that if polls showed that Anderson had a real shot at the presidential election by October, 31 per cent of the electorate would vote for the independent, equaling the number who would vote for Carter and falling only four points short of Reagan's total. "If Anderson's apparent momentum were to continue, it is entirely possible that he could finish ahead of Carter and could press Reagan for the lead," added Harris.
"We know that we have to keep climbing, but we're certainly on the way," says Turanchik. There's no doubt; we're going to win."
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