Although President Carter's personal campaigning proved to be far from a magic potion in Tuesday's elections, White House officials said yesterday that the overall results were a reaffirmation of confidence in Carter's domestic and fiscal policies.
Complete election returns showed that of the 28 Democratic Senate and gubernatorial candidates the president campaigned for since Labor Day, 16 lost to their Republican opponents. But those failures did not shake the White House assessment that, in the words of one presidential aide, Carter and his fellow Democrats "ended up in good shape."
Briefing reporters on condition they not be identified by name, senior White House and party officials said the election result showed strong national support for the president's efforts to curb government spending and they predicted that the new Congress will be more sympathetic to that goal.
They also said that despite the loss of several prominent liberal Democratic senators, the overall makeup of the Senate should not make it more difficult next year to win approval of a new strategic arms limitation treaty with the Soviet Union, which is expected to be the dominant foreign policy issue of 1979.
In this year's elections, the officials added, foreign policy was not a decisive issue in any of the races.
Throughout the year, the White House, under the direction of congressional relations of chief Frank Moore, operated an elaborate campaign apparatus, sending administration personalities, including the president, to about 1,100 campaign appearances for Democratic candidates.
The impact that any president can have on the off-year elections is problematic, a political fact of life that Carter's mixed record of wins and losses seemed to reaffirm. But like other presidents, Carter campaigned nonetheless, attending a handful of fundraisers through the spring and summer and substantially picked up his campaign pace in September and October.
White House officials said that Carter's personal campaign appearances were targeted for some of the toughest challenges faced by Democrats, where a presidential visit might make the difference. For the most part this was true, but there were exceptions-the president, for example, was the featured speaker at a Baltimore of Maryland was never really in doubt.
He also chose to spend part of his last day campaigning in Sacramento, uring the reelection of his sometimes party rival, California Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr. But the real purpose of Carter's California visit was to aid two Democrats who needed help - Lt. Gov. Mervyn Dymally and Attorney General candidate Yvonne Burke - and the result was more in keeping with his overall record of effectiveness. Both lost.
White House officials confirmed that two of the presidents't biggiest disappointments Tuesday occured in Minnesota and Maine.
Carter's last campaign appearance this year was Saturday night in Duluth, a last-minute addition to his schedule urged by Vice President Mondale and the second time within two weeks he was in the state. But the two presidential visits and the influence of Mondale in his home state was not enough to avert disaster for the divided Minnesota Democrat-Farmer-Labor Party, as Sen. Wendell Anderson, Gov. Rudy Perpich and Senate candidate Robert Short all lost.
The president also cared personally about the fate of Sen. William Hathaway (D-Me), On his fourth and last campaign stop the night of Oct. 28, Carter visited Portland and summoned up his most eloquent speech of the campaign. But Hathaway lost to Republican Rep. William Cohen.
There were other disappointments along the way - Jake Butcher, a friend of former budget director Bert Lance, lost his bid to become governor of Tennessee; two young southerners seeking Senate seats, Charles D. (Pug) Ravenel in South Carolina and John Ingram in North Carolina, lost; Alex Seith, beneficiary of a late presidential visit, in the end could not upset Sen. Charles H. Percy (R-Ill.).
But Carter could also claim some victories. Massachusetts Democrats, like their brothers in Minnesota, were sharply divided over conservative gubernatorial candidate Edward J. King. The president ignored some of his political advisers to go into the state, where King and Democratic Senate candidate Paul Tsongas both won.
Sen. Jennings Randolph (D-W.Va.) was though to be in trouble, but he squeaked out a victory after two campaign appearances this year by Carter. The president also campaigned on two separate occasions for New York Gov. Hugh Carey, who won reelection handily.
If there were serious White House miscalculations, they may have occurred in New Hampshire and Iowa. Last February, when Sen. Thomas McIntyre (D-N.H.) appeared to be in trouble, Carter attended a fund-raiser for him. McIntyre's fortunes seemed to rise during the year, so the president never returned. McIntyre was defeated Tuesday by a conservative Republican.
And the president never did go into Iowa, the state that gave his 1976 presidential campaign its start. By the time White House officials realized that Sen. Dick Clark was in serious trouble, it was too late to do anything about it. Clark lost.