The fear and loathing within the Democratic Party these days have so far failed to ruffle Walter Mondale. He dismisses the prospect of defections from the Carter-Mondale ticket with a piquant flourish.
"As the manager of the Bolshoi Ballet said," the vice president quipped on a flight here the other night, "I'm confident."
The pas de deux -- or pas de trois if one counts California Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr. -- has already started. This was Mondale's first campaign swing for the Carter-Mondale Committee since Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (Mass.) made clear that he is seriously thinking of the Democratic presidential nomination for himself.
For the Carter-Mondale campaign, it was, at best, a bumpy beginning. Everywhere he went on the two-day trip to Florida, Louisiana and California, Mondale was greeted with affection, applause -- and signs of Kennedy's putative candidacy. The affection was gentle, the pro-Carter applause was restrained, the financial contributions were less than expected.
"Carter's a good man, but he has failed to demonstrate the leadership we need. A leader should be more assertive, that's my opinion," said Amancio G. Ergina moments after shaking hands with the vice president at a reception here for Asian-American Democrats. A San Francisco parking authority commissioner, Ergina said his dream ticket would be Kennedy-Brown.
"It's going to be a landslide if that happens," he declared enthusiastically.
Mondale aides counted the fast-paced trip aboard Air Force II as 75 percent political, with that much in expenses to be paid by various party committees. It included speeches at AFL-CIO meetings in Florida and California, politicking for the president in those two states and in Louisiana, and the windup speech in Los Angeles at a fund-raiser for Sen. Alan Cranston. Items:
The expected audience at a$200-a-plate luncheon here for the benefit of the Carter-Mondale Committee was evidently so embarrassing that its local organizers felt compelled to boost the turnout by handing out dozens of tickets for $10 each. These were distributed through local organizations such as the Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club.
Even so, only 213 plates were filled, including apparently an indeterminate number consumed by the press. According to San Francisco reporters, the Carter-Mondale Committee here had initially been looking for a turnout of 500. According to a schedule in the hands of Mondale aides, only 120 people were expected two days before the event.
"Kennedy's preempted everyone," Phil Schaefer, a member of the luncheon committee, observed later in the lobby of the Fairmont Hotel. The chairman of the luncheon, Harold Rogers, estimated that it had raised perhaps $30,000.
Downstairs, by contrast, in the spacious Grand Ballroom, organizers of the 28th annual Israel bonds fashion festival luncheon were feeling no such pinch in raising more than $250,000 from bay area women.
"We have ambivalent feelings," Louis Stein, State of Israel bonds manager for northern California, told reporters of the Jewish attitude toward Carter these days. "The euphoria of Camp David has dissipated."
Mondale stopped by a few minutes later to urge "hope and optimism" for the Middle East. "When things get disappointing," he told the Israel bonds luncheon in almost plaintive tones, "it's good to ponder a moment how far we've really come."
The most resounding bursts of applause at the labor union sessions, with the Florida State AFL-CIO in Hollywood, Fla., Wednesday and with the AFL-CIO's Industrial Union Department here Thursday, were simply self-congratulatory reactions to Mondale's praise of organized labor. Some Florida supporters began to sing "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" as Mondale left the room there, but it died out completely before they could finish a single chorus.
At the IUD convention, meanwhile, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, Jerry Brown was campaigning strenuously, calling for an America-first economic policy instead of importing so much "Perrier water . . . Swedish crackers and Mercedes Benzes." United Steelworkers Treasurer Frank McKee emerged from meeting with Brown to declare that President Carter "is a bum."
Mondale turned up next day to address the IUD in a room peppered with such signs as "Pass Kennedy National Health Bill" . . . "Jobe! Not talk! . . . "Unfair Imports Rob Jobs." The table closest to the press section had a placard reading "National Call for Kennedy." A burly unionist suggested to a reporter that Mondale would be well advised to plan on returning to Capitol Hill.
"Hell," he said, "if he went back to Minnesota and ran for the Senate, he'd win by a landslide."
Mondale, however, professes to see no cause for dismay. The powers of the incumbency, for instance, are just beginning to be exercised. Accompanied by newly installed Housing and Urban Development Secretary Moon Landrieu, first in Hollywood, Fla., and later in New Orleans, Mondale hinted that all the mayors of those two cities need do is ask for federal funds in order to receive.
To Hollywood Mayor Ed Keating, Mondale declared that "whatever Hollywood wants, it'll get." He used the same pitch in New Orleans with Mayor Ernest (Dutch) Morial, again with Landrieu by his side.
In San Francisco, Mayor Dianne Feinstein took the initiative, introducing Mondale with the observation that the city was looking for some $30 million from HUD. In Los Angeles, Mayor Tom Bradley underscored the theme even more with a surprise endorsement of the Carter-Mondale ticket. He called Carter the best friend the nation's cities have ever had in the Oval Office and noted pointedly how much federal money has been flowing into Los Angeles, including a recent $620 million grant from the Department of Transportation.
The Carter-Mondale Committee seems to be banking heavily on a "southern strategy" of showing strength in early primary states such as Florida, Alabama and Louisiana in order to counter likely losses to Kennedy in still earlier primaries in New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts. The committee has also been pouring money and manpower into Florida for a nonbinding straw vote at the state Democratic convention in St. Petersburg Nov. 18.
Mondale concedes that Carter's "appeal in his own region is an important asset," but he thinks "we need a national strategy. We've got to do well and stay well nationally." The vice president seems to regard it as only natural that Kennedy should be enjoying an early surge of popularity, but expects it to dwindle shortly once Kennedy becomes a candidate and is forced to offer his own solutions to such excruciating problems as inflation and the energy crisis.
In any case, Mondale thinks there is a tendency on the part of the press "to underestimate the amount of good will out there" that exists for the president. Testing his themes at every stop, Mondale depicted Carter again and again as a decent man, a good public servant committed to human rights, civil liberties and arms control, a presdient whose administration is the first in 50 years "in which no American has died in combat."
"We haven't done enough, we aren't perfect . . . but a great deal has been accomplished," Mondale declared at the luncheon here. "Our president is not a demagogue. He's not a grandstander. He may not glitter like a movie star . . . but he gets the job done."