President Carter and the Democratic Party have special problems in the West and face uncertain prospects in the elections of 1978 and 1980, party officials and pollster Pat Caddell agreed today.
Last November, while Carter was becoming the first Deep South candidate in more than a century to win the White House, he lost every western state except Hawaii to Gerald Ford. Comments made here during a three-day conference of party officials from 13 western states and Guam showed that the West still seems to be on the outside looking in as far as the national administration is concerned.
"The West has the potential problem of seeing itself isolated from the rest of the country and the party," Caddell told a concluding session of the conference.
While Democratic officials expressed support and considerable sympathy for Carter over his handling of the Bert Lance case and the Panama Canal treaties, the White House came in for criticism on energy and water policy, two fundamental issues in the West.
Sen. Gary Hart (D-Colo.) said that it is unlikely anyone would regard the energy crisis as "the moral equivalent of war," a phrase used by Carter in his energy message, while the federal government is committing only $285 million, the equivalent of one-twelfth of the space budget, to solar energy research.
New Mexico Democratic Chairman Dan Croy said Carter's energy policies were not favorable to the energy-producing states. He opposed a well-head tax on crude oil and called for additional economic incentives for oil producers.
California Democratic Chairman Bert Coffey said the Democratic National Committee is concentrating on presidential fund-raising to the exclusion of party-building in Western states, where Democrats face a number of difficult gubernatorial and congressional elections next year.
California is a rich source of money for both major political parties. Democratic officials in this state have been grumbling of weeks about a $1,000-a-plate presidential fund-raiser in Los Angeles on Oct. 22 where Carter will be the principal speaker. When Democratic National Committee scheduled this event, which is expected to gross $1 million for the national party, state party officials had to cancel plans for a fund-raiser of their own a few days earlier to help state legislative candidates.
Because of the difficulty of milking the same financial sources for large amounts of money, the state party officials agreed to forego their fund-raiser. But Coffey and other state party voices pressured the national committee to give the California party 7 1/2 per cent of the net proceeds of the presidential fund-raiser.
Coffey believes that many of the difficulties between the national party and the California party stem from "paranoia" about California Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr., which Coffey attributes to unnamed White House staff members.
Brown, who did not attend the conference here, was identified by pollster Caddell in a celebrated post-election memo as a potential rival to Carter for the 1980 Democratic presidential nomination. Brown defeated Carter in the presidential primaries where the two men faced each other in 1976.
Coffey and Caddell said in separate interviews that they do not now expect Brown to run against Carter.
"The paranoia about Jerry Brown is misplaced," Coffey said. "He's not going to run against President Carter. His future is in the Senate - and then maybe running for President."
Brown faces re-election in 1978. He is considered to be running well ahead of his potential Republican challengers.
In a speech here, Caddell said economic growth is the paramount issue in the west, particularly in the Rocky Mountain area, and is one of the most difficult issues for Democrats to handle.
Caddell said the issue of growth versus conservation has a tendency to split Democrats along class lines, with minority groups and union members favoring economic growth and "suburban liberals" more interested in environmental concerns. He said that polls he has taken indicate westerners feel more strongly than other Americans that "environmentalists are hurting the economy."
As evidence that the issue has the potential to harm Democratic candidates, Caddell pointed to a special congressional election last May in Seattle where Republicans captured a normally Democratic district on the strength of the economic growth issue.
The overall view of the 1973 elections by Caddell is that Democrats face the loss of some governorships, in part because they hold so many of them, and possibly some modest losses in the House. Caddell said that Senate races, as in the past two elections, are likely to be decided by the personalities of the candidates.
The most welcome news for the White House at this Western meeting came on the Bert Lance question. Party chairman agreed at a breakfast session that the investigation of the Director of the Office of Management and Budget has not yet done serious damage to Carter or the party. Most chairmen said Lance helped himself in his Senate testimony.