Ask professional political watchers on Capitol Hill whom they like for president in 1980 and you're likely to come up with a congressman who barely scores in the name recognition department: John B. Anderson. The Illinois Republican congressman announced last June he intended to seek the presidency. But unlike Rep. Philip Crane, he flatly said he was going only for the brass ring, that he wouldn't hedge his bet by standing for reelection to Congress.
Since joining Congress in 1960, Anderson has been widely admired by those who know him as a thoughtful, honest politician. Of course those boosters in the press rooms, cloakrooms and hallways of Congress hasten to add they don't think Anderson has a chance to beat better-known candidates such as Ronald Reagan or John Connally. As an early skeptic of Richard Nixon's claims of executive privilege during Watergate, a foe of the bombing of Cambodia, and a supporter of the Panama Canal agreements, Anderson is clearly distinct from other Republicans charging toward their party's nomination. He thinks that is his saving grace.
"The Republicans' only chance is to form a coalition of blacks, independents, ticket-splitters, people who would admire someone who thinks in terms of the national interest," he told a Chicago Tribune reporter. The white-haired, 57-year-old congressman has compaigned with little fanfare, little money and limited staff support. His hope: a respectable showing in an early primary to catapult his name to the lips of the media and voters -- just as an obscure Georgia governor did in 1976.