Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
Listen, Washington. No matter what they're saying on the tom-toms - a Harris Poll shows Jimmy Carter's popularity down 17 per cent, the Senate is trouncing his energy bill, his pollster, Pat Caddell, is saying he has trouble with "institutional" Washington, the old bulls are saying he needs more old bulls and fewer Georgians in the inner circle - no matter what they say, the Peanut Brigade is here to tell us Jimmy Carter is doing just fine. Jes' fine.
The Peanut Brigade are Georgians who have been campaigning for Jimmy Carter since his first run for the Georgia Senate 15 years ago. They campaigned through the Georgia gubernatorial races, and they travelled at their own expense to seven presidential primaries last year, to canvas door-to-door.
They are Jimmy Carter's grass roots. They came to the White House Thursday night from places like Valdosta, Smyrna, Americus, Fort Bally and Plains. They are what Rosalynn Carter called "my home folks."
Around 500 stalwarts - housewives, doctors, lawyers, state senators, store owners and students, ranging from teenagers to greybeards - got their reward Thursday night a real live Jacksonian. Johnsonian barbecue on the South Lawn, and warm embraces on a cold night from a President they still call Jimmy Man. As in, "How are you Jimmy, man?"
Speaking softly, he told one group, "You all have made me feel more at home than any time since I've been up here." He moved through the sweatered crowd with most of the old campaign magic - the touching of cheeks, the patient posing for the Instamatic gang, the caressing of kid's heads, long hugs from enthusiastic ladies, "Hoooo," said husband Wade Cushman. "I ain't got that big a hug in a long time."
Among the Peanut Brigade was former budget director Bert Lance, who was a house guest of the Carters and planned to spend the night in the Lincoln bedroom.
In a speech, Carter told the crowd they were his "closest friends in all the world." He told them, "We're part of the same family. You've helped shape my thoughts and attitudes . . . I don't think there is any group in the world that has more right to watch me as closely as you . . ."
There was a bit of pathos when he said he never felt alone because of them and Rosalynn. There were laughs when he said, "When I achieve things, it's because of you; when I make mistakes, it's because of you." There was applause when James Murphy, a U.S. marshal who marched with the big green Peanut Brigade banner in the inaugural parade, presented the banner and talked of campaigns to come.
After sampling Bill Tait's Smokey Glen Farms real live populist barbecued chicken (imported from exotic Gaithersburg). Carter moved back into the crowd. The cast of "Your Arms Are Too Short to Box With God" sang gospel tunes with such variations as "Thank you, Jesus, for Mr. Carter" as the President chatted with the people - most of whom he called by their first names.
But then an impertinent reporter started to wonder that since it had been a bad day, what with polls and the press conference, and the oil companies, and Sen. Henry Jackson's (D-Wash.) saying the President's energy bill "was not politically viable at this time," wasn't it possible that the barbecue was just a bit of a PH stunt!
"Since it's been a bad day [WORD ILLEGIBLE] said the reporter, "um, er, was the barbecue always planned for this date?"
"Yes. And it hasn't been a bad day," said the President. "It's been a good one."