In a week or two, Democratic Party Treasurer Evan Dobelle will be surfaced formally as the official, out-front chief of President Carter's 1980 campaign for reelection.
The president has given his approval for the formation of a campaign committee that is to file officially with the Federal Election Commission within a couple of weeks, according to several senior White House officials.
And the 33-year-old Debelle, they say, will be in charge of assembling the campaign committee staff and running its daily operations. The committee's initial tasks will be to begin raising founds and to set up a state-by-state Carter campaign organization. This will then become the formal Carter campaign staff once the president officially announces his candidacy, which his advisers say will be later this year.
The men who ran the campaign that made Jimmy Carter president in 1976 are on the White House senior staff now, and they have elected to stay there. They have chosen Dobelle, who was an eager but untitled tagalong in the Carter entourage of 1976, to run the campaign to reelect the president in 1980.
Dobelle will have the title of "Campaign coordinator," not manager, not director, and that is a singal as to how the thing will actually work.
While Dobelle will be running the committee at its headquarters, he will apparently still be taking his major strategy and staffing cues from his chief sponsor, Hamilton Jordan, and a few othes in the White House inner circle. That will put this presidential staff in about the same position as all the others who served a president seeking reelection.
"Let's face, it, Hamilton is going to be in charge of strategy," one White House official said. "He'll be in on all of the major decisions, and he'll be making them. But you don't have to spend every day working on the strategy for a candidate who is already the president of the United States. So Hamilton's role will be in an overall, an advisory, capacity. Not in a day-to-day operational role like it was last time."
White House officials say they have concluded that the best contribution they can make to the presidenths campaign is to stay on the job in the White House and help him build the record that he will run on.
Jordan, who at age 31 was Carter's campaign manager in 1976, is to spend most of the coming months running the White House efforts to win Senate approval for the upcoming stategic arms limifation treaty (SALT).
Jody Powell will continue as presidential press secretary. Tim Kraft, the man in charge of political affairs at the White House, will continue to practice his politics there.
And Gerald Rafshoon will continue to communicate the president to the public from there, at least for now. (Rafshoon has always said he did not expect to stay at the White House permanently, and presidential staff sources say they believe he will resign and return to this ad agency about the time Carter comes in need of 1980 campaign commercials.)
The Carter senior staff officials all say they will be scrupulous about giving the taxpayers at least the 40 hours a week of government work that they are due. They say they will not use White House telephones for campaign calls, now White House stationery for campaign letters, and so on.
"We maintain the right, on behalf of the president, to keep informed," said one senior presidential assistant. "There will be a few White House people authorized to serve as liaison to the campaign committee -- but only a few.
"This campaign will not be run out of the White House. It will be run out of the committee, under the direction of Evan Dobelle."
Being chosen to run the presidnt's reelection committee is, for Dobelle, the top rung of a very fast ladder.
"I've been working preciencts since I was 13," Dobelle said. "To me, this is like heaven."
Two decades ago, Dovelle received his political baptism in the same year as his barmitzvah. He worked what passed for the words in West palm Beach for the campaign of Democratic Congressman Paul G. Rogers. When the Dobelles moved to Cocoa, Fla., he picked up in mid-campaign as a youth coordinator for John F. Kennedy.
Then he went off to college in the 60s and came out a Republican.
This was not as much of a swim against the tides of campus liberalism as it sounds. For Debelle's college was The Citadel, in South Carolina, and the reason he turned Republican is that Dobelle decided he wanted to help Edward Brooke of Massachusetts become the first black U.S. senator elected since Reconstruction.
Dobelle wound up a registered Republican, and worked for campaigns including John Vople for governor and Nelson A. Rockefeller for president in 1968. When Richard M. Nixon got the GOP nomination, Dobelle says, he wrote in Hubert H. Humphrey on an absentee ballot.
At 28, in 1973, Dobelle was elected mayor of Pittsfield, Mass. He was reelected in 1975, and it was as mayor -- and as a registered Republican -- that he endorsed Jimmy Carter in the Massachusetts Democratic primary in 1976.
Carter finished fourth there, but he did carry Pirrsfield, and when he went down to Florida for the next primary, Dobelle was riding along with him, carrying no title but an eager smile and an explanation that he was willing to do anything to help.
When Carter became presiden, Dobelle became U.S. chief of protocol. And then, when Dobelle became treasurer of the Democratic National Committee, Kit Dobelle, Evan's wife, became chief of protocol.
Now Dobelle finds hinself in a rather unusual position. He will be running the reelection campaign of a Democratic president who, according to the polls, is running ahead of all Republicans, and most Democrats. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D.-Mass.), not President Carter, is easily the choice of the Democrats, according to the polls. And Carter only narrowly tops Gov. Edmund G (Jerry) Brown Jr. in the same surveys.
The Carter strategists expect to face a challenge in their own party and that they will have to enter the primaries and campaign actively and early to win. They expect to see Brown in the race in New Hampshire, and others, like Sen. Adlai Stevanson (D-Ill.), too.
And what of Kennedy? The Carter officials like to say that they take him at his word when he says he is not running. But, in fact, they figure that Kennedy is making all of the right moves, positioning himself so that he can make the run any time he chooses.
This is what awaits Dobelle. He bristles at suffestions that he is not one of the party's vetran pros. "I've been involved in politics for 20 years," he says. And so far, at least, he has demonstrated the impressive ability to pack into a single sentence a whole news conference-worth of campaignmanager traditionals.
"We're going to have a tight, competent, well-orgainzed, grass-roots organization," Dobelle promises, all in one breath. And he adds: "We're not taking anthing for granted."
He is sitting in a room in the Beverly Hilton Hotel, after attending a fund-raiser, and he is working the phones and letting a few of the Carter faithful around the country know that the campaign is about to happen. He pauses to think about the fast climb that has been his life in politics, to date. And when he speaks, his mind is on the Gipper, back in Washingtin.
"Hey, I'm pround, and you can quote me. I really am. And I'll tell you something: we'll do it for him."