Former president Ford said yesterday he will not be a candidate in the 1980 New Hampshire primary and will not endores or support anyone else for the Republican presidential nomination.
In an hour-long talk with reporters, he did not firmly shut the door on a late-starting candidacy of his own, but he went a long way toward taking himself out of the early maneuvering for the nomination.
Saying it would be "good for the party and good for the candidates to have a full field in New Hampshire," Ford said "the odds are heavey that I will not be involved under any foreseeable circumstances" in that state's leadoff primary in February 1980.
The statement confirmed the expectations of most of the 1980 Republican hopefuls about Ford's plans and cleared the way for some of them to push ahead with their announcements.
Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.), Ford's 1976 running mate, said, "If he's not in New Hampshire, I may be." Dole has made eight trips to New Hampshire in the past year, but had said that if Ford ran, he would defer to him.
George Bush, who had already sined up many of the leaders of Ford's 1976 New Hampshire campaign commitee, said he was "not surprised" by the statement and would go ahead with his own plans for an "early filing" of an official presidential candidacy.
John Sears, the manager of Ronald Reagan's 1976 campaign, said he was "surprised that Ford was that specific," but said the former president had indicated such a decision in a recent private conversation with Reagan.
Sears forecast the announcement of a Reagan campaign committee by March 1. That same timetable was predicted for John B. Connally by an aide to the former Texas governor, who said he saw no reason why Connally would bypass New Hampshire if he ran.
Two other Possibilities-Sen. Howard H. Baker Jr. (R.-Tenn.) and Rep. John B. Anderson (R-Ill.)-said Ford's statement would not affect their plans or timetable.Anderson said he would decide "as early as possible in 1979" and Baker said he decision would wait until summer.
With Rep. Philip M. Crane (R-Ill.) already announced and campaigning in New Hampshire, the New Hampshire field appears likely to include at least four and perhaps as many as seven candidates.
Ford dit not explain specifically why he ruled out running in New Hampshire-where he won a narrow victory over former California governor Reagan in 1976. But he said he had "no insatiable, scheming appetite to be president" and seemed content to let events decide whether he eventually becomes a candidate.
Predicting that "no one will win by a wide margin" if a big field enters New Hampshire, Ford said "there will be a contest down the line" before Republicans find a "consensus candidates."
He said he had no "favorite candidate" for the nomination and would not support one before convention time.
While moving away from active participation in the 1980 contest, the former president showed no hesitation in drawing the line with his successor in the White House.
He said President Carter's economic policies had been "a disaster," and were directly responsible for the upsurge of inflation.
To combat it, Ford said it was "absolutely essential he [Carter] stick to his decision to keep the deficit below $30 billion, or his whole program will go down the drain."
Calling the administration's wage price guidelines "just window dressing," Ford said he opposed them because they are "not voluntary."
"Using the club of government in awarding contracts" to firms that comply with the guidelines is just one step short of mandatory controls, he said.
Despite his criticism of Carter's policies, Ford forecast the president would be renominated by the Democrats. And he did not close the door on supporting Carter in the coming fight on a strategic arms limitation treaty (SALT) with the Soviet Union.
He said he would make no decision on supporting a SALT II agreement until it was finally negotiated and he had been briefed by both adminstration experts and critics of the treaty.
Ford renewed his criticism of Carter's actions in scrapping some strategic weapons systems, asking rhetorically, "Wouldn't it be easier to sell a SALT II treaty if we had about four B1 bombers coming off the production line right now . . . with the kind of strong defense capability they represent.
But when asked if partisan considerations or the internal politics of the Republican Party would influence his thinking on SALT, Ford noted that he had supported Carter on the Panama Canal treaties, when many Republicans said any person taking such a stance would be rejected in 1980 by the GOP convention.
"SALT II," he said, "is infinitely more important to the long-range security of the United States than the Panama Canal treaties. A person in my position . . . has to make that decision regardless of its implications" for Republican politics.
He said, however, that it was important to his decision whether Carter fulfills his pledge to increase defense spending "across-the-board" this year by 3 percent above the inflation rate. "If there's a backoff from that pledge," Ford said, "it's a mistake."