Rep. Phil Crane (R-Ill) paid a "courtesy call" on fellow Republican Ronald Reagan yesterday to inform him he intends to announce his candidacy for president soon.
Crane emerged from a 25-minute meeting with Reagan and Sen. Paul Laxalt (R-Nev.), who was chairman of the Reagan's campaign in 1976, saying he had told the former California governor, "I intend to run and make a declaration before Labor Day."
Crane, Reagan's Illinois campaign chairman in 1976, said the two "really didn't debate the point."
"We discussed 1980 only in the most general terms," he added.
Reagan, leaving the meeting a few minutes later, refused to confirm or deny Crane's statements, saying only, "I'm quite sure that there will be a great many candidates in our party" that year.
But Reagan forces apparently intend to make a rearguard attempt to dissuade Crane, 47, from making an early announcement, because they fear it would split the ranks of conservative Republicans.
"It would be unfortunate if Phil announces," one influential Reagan supporter said yesterday. "There are just too few of us conservatives around."
If Crane announces his candidacy before Labor Day, he would become the first formal presidential contender for the 1980 race. He would begin the race as an unknown to most voters, although he is popular among many of the conservative activists who supported Reagan in 1976.
He has said he wants to make an early announcement to overcome his "name recognition problem" and to test his theory that it might be time for Reagan, who will be 69 in 1980, to step aside and become a "senior statesman" in the Republican Party.
Reagan, however, made it clear yesterday he has no immediate intentions of doing so. "I've closed no doors," he told reporters. "Why don't you ask me about this a little later."
Asked about Crane, he said, "He's a very articulate man. He's a fine Republican."
Crane, who has maintained an active speaking schedule around the country for the last year, requested the meeting with Reagan as a courtesy gesture. The former California governor was in Washington to serve as host at a GOP fund-raiser.