Rep. John B. Anderson of Illinois, a progressive Republican who survived a purge effort by the "new right" last winter, is joining the growing field of 1980 presidential contenders.
Anderson, chairman of the House Republican Conference, the No. 3 leadership post there, outlined his plans at a private luncheon Monday with top New England GOP officials and confirmed them in an interview with The Washington Post yesterday.
Anderson said he had met with 15 long-time financial backers in his home town of Rockford, Ill., 10 days ago, and received pledges of enough money to undertake a "serious exploration" of his national support.
"If things go as well as we hope," he said, "we would expect to be able to qualify for federal matching money and officially launch our campaign soon after the first of the year." To receive the federal subsidy, Anderson would have to raise $5,000 in small contributions from each of 20 states - a goal he said "appears to be reasonable."
Massachusetts national committee-woman Polly Logan, who invited 14 state GOP leaders to meet Anderson at Monday's Harvard Club luncheon, said there was "a very good reception for John and great interest in trying to find a new face" for the 1980 nomination.
Anderson, 56,. is regarded as one of the House's leading orators and has been a major Republican spokesman on issues ranging from election reform to energy. Because he is conservative on most fiscal and economic questions, his strong support of civil rights legislation and his early criticism of the Watergate cover-up drew the wrath of some conservative organizations.
Last February, the "new right" made him a test case nationally by supporting a major renomination challenge by the Rev. Don Lyon, a fundamentalist minister in Rockford. Lyon charged that Anderson had abandoned his early conservatism by supporting gun control, abortion rights, and president Carter's position on the Panama Canal and welfare "reform."
Anderson, who had rarely encountered serious opposition since his first election 18 years ago, called the race "a struggle for the soul of the GOP." Forced into a major effort, he won renomination with 57 percent of the vote. His election over a little-known Democrat in November is regarded as a cinch.
Illinois already has one declared Republican presidential contender in Rep. Philip M. Crane, a staunch conservative, Gov. James R. Thompson, now involved in a campaign for reelection, is also regarded as a 1980 GOP prospect.
Anderson said his plans were not contingent on Thompson's decision. But said his plans were not contingent on Thompson's decision. But he said he doubted that former president Ford would run in 1980 and noted that some of his early support comes from Ford's home state of Michigan.
Chief strategist of the Anderson campaign at this point is Paul D. Henry, political science professor at Calvin Cllege in Ford's hometown of Grand Rapids and, until recently, GOP chairman in Michigan's Fifth District, which sent Ford to the House for 25 years. Henry, a former member of Anderson's House staffs, said he had not discussed his present role with Ford.
Anderson also has close ties to Michigan Gov. William G. Millike, outgoing chairman of the National Governors' Association, who arranged for him to be a featured speaker Monday at the association's convention here.
Miliken said in an interview that he has made "no commitments" on the 1980 presidential race. "But I happen to think he is one of the really able, competent people in our party," he said of Anderson.
The GOP's wide varitey of 1980 choices ranges from self-described moderates like Anderson. George Bush and Sen. Howard H. Baker Jr. (Tenn.) to more conservative figures like Crane, Ronald Reagan, John B. Connally and Sen. Bob Dole (Kan.).
Anderson said that if his explorations show sufficient support, he would almost certainly enter the New Hampshire primary, where Bush already has significant support from 1976 backers of Ford. Anderson conferred yesterday with Mike Brewer, a Harvard University vice president and leader of the liberal Ripon Society, who ran California Rep. Paul N. (Pete) McCloskey's 1972 challenge to then president Nixon in New Hampshire.
Anderson also said he was "prepared to acceptt" giving up reelection to the House in 1980.
The Rockford Republican is a close friend of Arizona Rep. Morris K. Udall, the liberal Democrat who was Jimmy Carter's most persistent challenger for the 1976 nomination. The two collaborated in enactment of public financing for presidential election campaigns and have worked, so far in vain, for tax-supported congressional campaigns as well.