LOOK FOR NO CLUES here. I don't understand it, either. Better people have been explaining what it all meant and they could be right. To me, it was a fortune cookie. You bit into it and you got the usual cryptic message, saying, in effect, "You will be very happy if you are very wise."
What an election that is not a landslide or a mandate at least ought to do is give you a pattern so that you can say, "You see, it doesn't pay to try to buy an election," or, "I told you the blacks wouldn't vote," or, "The president was a drag." Every little maxim you can extract from the returns is smothered in its crib, by another little maxim.
Let us take, for instance the matter of the president as a help. You can say that in New Jersey, he might have cost Rep. Millicent Fenwick. She and Ronald Reagan campaigned arm in arm, and she lost. But to cancel that is the case of Chic Hecht of Nevada. The president made two trips in Hecht's behalf and Hecht won. The Great Communicator was invited to stay away from California and Virginia by Senate candidates. Pete Wilson and Paul Trible both won. You tell me.
You look at the 26 new Democrats in the House of Representatives, and you head towards the conclusion that the voters were rejecting Reaganomics and those who supported it.
Stop right where you are. Look at the Senate. Four moderate Republican incumbents who gave the president a hand in tax and budget cuts made it safely back. One of them, John Chafee(?), comes from Rhode Island, the most Democratic state in the union. But the voters did not forgive Ms. Fenwick. Her opponent's strategy was simplicity itself: Frank Lautenberg just attacked Reagan administration economic policies and "linked Ms. Fenwick to those policies."
Let us move on to money. Were the 1982 voters repelled by filthy rich candidates and enormous displays of wealth? They were and they weren't. Lautenberg, again, spent $1.3 million of his own money to counter Ms. Fenwick's national celebrity as "Lacey Davenport."
Ms. Fenwick nobly rejected all PAC money. It seems to have contributed to her defeat. The pros say that she had to spend precious time raising funds.
Mark Dayton of Minnesota, who spent $6 million of his own fortune, lost to Republican incumbent David Durenberger. And the biggest spender of all -- from Texas naturally -- Gov. Bill Clements, was wrestled to the ground by Democrat Mark White.
Blacks? Everyone said that, fired by their rage at Ronald Reagan, they would swamp the polls. Well, they did and they didn't. They turned out massively in Alabama -for George Wallace, one of their previous, all- time, Olympic-class villains.
But where were they in Los Angeles? Tom Bradley, one of the most achieving and estimable black politicians in the country, had a chance to become the nation's first elected black governor. The blacks did not bother to show up. Ronald Reagan's friend, attorney general George Deukmejian was the beneficiary.
You may wish to pause, incidentally, before you enlist in the legions that are now telling you that Ronald Reagan will change course. You may wish to consider the California returns and contemplate the immense satisfaction, comfort and encouragement that the president must derive from them.
It would have been enough for him to put down Jerry Brown. The young governor, who is futuristic, articulate and agile, has always been an affront to Reagan. He has embarrassed him in great ways and small. Brown refused to move into the behemoth of an official governor's mansion that Reagan sponsored. He has been out front against nuclear power and nuclear weapons. There was a chance that Californians, despite his failings as an exterminator, would have seen that Brown belongs in the Senate. He loves talk and he has more ideas in an hour than the dim-witted Tories who so largely populate it now have had in a lifetime. But Reagan's friends, without thought to the entertainment of the nation, vetoed Brown.
They did more. They creamed an anti-handgun initiative, lining themselves up solidly with a president, who, despite a hairbreadth escape from a handgun bullet, continues to oppose gun control.
California also went, by a mere six points, for the nuclear freeze, which Reagan regards as a Red plot. The freeze did better in seven other states.
So you can make of Nov. 2 what you will. But what's more important, of course, is what Reagan makes of it. If he keeps his thoughts focused on home, he may easily decide that he's on the right track and that what happened really didn't amount to much.