Columnist analyzes presidential elections after Labor Day events


-Compiled by Elise Podhajsky

Battle of the presidential candidatesBy Dan Owens

With the passing of another relaxing Labor Day, America finds itself caught up in the 48th campaign for the presidency of the United States. Labor Day is viewed as the traditional starting point for the fall campaign, though it seems that both President Reagan and Walter Mondale have engaged in extensive preseason campaigning this summer.

Still, both men spoke of “kicking off” their campaigns Monday, so after six months of primaries and two months of convention hoopla, it seems that the beef of the fall campaign has finally arrived. Some observations on what this election campaign will bring:

First, look for the campaign to be extremely polarized. If there is any issue on which the two parties agree, it is that there is a clear – cut choice available to voters this year: The two rivals seem to disagree on every issue – from passing the Equal Rights Amendment to reducing the deficit, and from legislating morality to dealing with the Russians. Very real differences exist between the candidates’ positions, and each side will try to heighten those differences.

Another thing you can bet on is that this campaign will be an especially vicious one. Of course, the democrats will try to present the voters with a negative view of Reagan. Being the party out of power, they have to give the voters a good reason to put them back in. Apparently the Mondale strategists believe they have a better chance if they smear Ron first, and sell Walter second.

What is surprising is that Reagan has been attacking Mondale. Most observers thought that the president would refrain from directly attacking his opponent, letting George Bush and other leading republicans dirty their hands with the mudslinging. It was thought that this would help preserve the president’s “nice guy” image.

But Reagan has abandoned that strategy and is now lashing out at Mondale and the democrats instead. The president’s strategists see Reagan as a better offensive, rather than defensive, campaigner, so don’t look for any Rose Garden strategy this year – the president will be out on the campaign trail, with both a good word for himself, and a bad one for the democrats.

If history is any guide, trends would seem to indicate a victory for the president this fall. In nine of the past 10 elections in which an elected president sought office again, the American public has either voted strongly for the incumbent or has dumped him. Only Wilson’s 1916 re-election bid was close.

It doesn’t appear that the election this fall is going to go decisively against the president. If Mondale wins, it will be in a close election. But if the historical trend is a good predictor, Reagan should trounce Mondale in November.

The president enjoys a strong lead in the polls, and some people are talking about another landslide election. But recent events indicate that this election will be closer than the polls currently show.

If the republicans were going to achieve a decisive victory this fall, August would have been the month they got their big boost. August was a disaster for the eemocrats, what with the Republican convention and the furor over Ferrarro’s taxes.

But while the GOP did move ahead in the polls, democratic hopes were not crushed. Ferrarro handled herself admirably on the tax issue, so well that the image of her confidently responding to a very hostile press probably helped the Democrats’ chances. And at the end of the month, the Democrats managed to secure an impressive group of endorsements, including that of 1980 presidential candidate John Anderson and the reassured support of Jesse Jackson.

The failure of the republicans to achieve a knockout blow in August shows there is still a very large group of Americans who are dissatisfied with the president’s policies.

The difference in the polls between Reagan and Mondale isn’t as great as the difference was on Labor Day prior to other landslide elections, such as Johnson and Goldwater, or Nixon and McGovern. It is much closer – in fact, about the same as that between Ford and Carter, and that race eventually was decided by a few thousand votes in Alaska and Hawaii.

Another factor that seems to favor the democrats is the potential black vote. Blacks voted in record numbers against conservative Barry Goldwater in 1964, and they must feel infinitely more threatened by Reagan than by Goldwater. If there was ever an election that can demonstrate black political power, this is it. With the increased interest generated by the Jackson campaign, the possibility of this happening becomes even stronger.

Some unknown factor will probably be crucial to the outcome of the election. It would be concern over the president’s age, now 73, an international crisis, new revelations about Ferrarro’s taxes or a slip-up during the debates.

What is certain now is the democrats are behind, and time is running out for them. Mondale has shown the capacity to fight resourcefully when he’s behind, but he is now facing the toughest fight of his life. If the democrats can succeed in turning out 100 million voters, and Mondale can make a good showing in the debates, he could achieve the greatest upset in history. If not, and Reagan wins again, the Republicans are likely to look upon their victory as a mandate or approval for their policies.

Either way, you can be sure that the next eight weeks will be the decisive period – and probably the last campaign for either Ronald Reagan or Walter Mondale.