Jimmy Carter's team has a vital interest in seeing to it that the Democratic convention next month runs as smoothly as a pre-programmed Miss America contest. Unfortunately for them, Teddy Kennedy and his dwindling nucleus of loyalists seem intent on making the convention a donnybrook.
The smart-money bettors give Kennedy little chance of upsetting Cater and his lead of 600 or 700 delegates. But I have seen an internal Kennedy headquarters memorandum that discloses a confidence that, under the circumstances, strains the credibility of neutral observers. Apparently, the Kennedy camp actually thinks it can turn the convention upside down and get their man nominated.
Cockily titled "Only 205 Days Until the Inauguration," the Kennedy staff memo seeks to bolstermorale by noting that "with a swing of only 10 percent of the entire convention, the predicted nomination [of Carter] would change." Counting on that shift, they think they can throw the convention into an uproar from which anything could emerge.
In the ensuing termoil, sources told my associate Jack Mitchell, Kennedy's supporters hope they can prevent a first-ballot renomination of Carter and cause a temporarily deadlocked convention. According to the Kennedy game plan, delegates who are persuaded to abandon Carer on the first ballot will then move into the Kennedy camp.
The memo maintains that Carter has committed four public relations boo-boos in recent weeks that have seriously weakened his position:
Carter's initial refusal to debate Anderson. The public, according to polls, did not buy his explanation that he would in effect be debating two conservative Republicans.
The Carter dominated Democratic National Committee's expensive effort to keep independent Anderson off the ballot in several states. At a cost of $250,000, which could have been used to support other Democratic candidates, the administration's anti-Anderson campaign outraged a number of congressional Democrats. They were moved to form a "fair play" committee in hopes that the White House move wouldn't rub off on party regulars who might benefit from an Anderson candidacy.
The flight to deny Kennedy first spot on the podium at the mayor's conference in Seattle.
Finally, as the internal memo puts it, "the ill-advised and losing fight against Mayor [william] Green of Philadelphia as chair of the Pennsylvania delegation" to the national convention.
These supposed errors are viewed as "PR disasters" that "reflect poor judgment verging on desperation on the part of the White House."
The memo also minimizes the effect of Vice President Walter Mondale's public claim that Kennedy supporters among labor unions and elected officials are ready to throw their votes to the president. "As Mondale hiimself knows, because he's made some of the calls, Kennedy supporters in Congress and other elected officials and union leaders have been saying privately and publicly that they are in this with Kennedy all the way," the memo states.
"In fact," the memo concludes, " some told Carter and Mondale [who have been making telephoned entreaties for support to high officials], 'Don't call us, we'll call you.' Others were even more graphic."
The Kennedy headquarters memo claims that much of President Carter's delegate support is "soft," and cites a recent CBS-New York Times poll as support for this claim. The poll noted that only 44 percent of the Democrats interviewed would vote for Carter if they had Anderson as an alternative in November.
The point of the internal Kennedy memo, of course, is not whether this is simply an exercise in self-delusion; the point is that the Kennedy staff -- and apparently the senator himself -- seem determined to make a fight out of it at next month's convention.