"It is idiotic," said Jody Powell. "It is not democratic and it's hard to know exactly what it means and it's a hell of a way to run a railroad." h
President Carter's press secretary was talking about Saturday's Democratic caucus fight between the president and the draft-Kennedy movement here.
Powell added: "But it bears a very close resemblance to the way we nominate presidents in this country. There are only a few crazed people who have been through it. At least we know what the hell we're getting into."
Many people are calling the caucus vote "idiotic." On Saturday morning, thousands of people -- including many elderly -- will be rousted from their beds and herded across town to vote for delegates to a nonbinding straw vote convention in November.
But to judge by Carter's massive effort here -- a flood of patronage and federal money, mass mailings, the telephone banks, the expensive, military-like game plan -- it would seem that the presidency hinges on it.
It is, to some extent, a dry run for later battles that do count. It is also meant as a clear signal to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D. Mass.) that there will be, for Carter, later battles and that they will be tough ones.
"This is an example of what the nominating process is like -- a long arduous process, state by state, district by district and precinct by precinct," said Powell.
"It is not," he added scornfully, "just getting Lou Harris to go on TV and say what a great guy Teddy is."
The size of the Carter effort here in Dade County seems out of proportion with the actual narrow mission. The Carter campaign is not playing to all Democrats, as it would in a primary. It has targeted 5,000 to 7,000 "hard core" Carter supporters in Dale County, for example, whom the Carter workers hope to bring out to the caucuses. That figure represents about 1 percent of the 545,000 registered Democrats here.
"We are looking for a very special Democratic voter," said Gerald Vento, Carter's south Florida coordinator. "We are looking for early Carter supporters from 1976 in high-turnout precints, people who may feel that the administration has'nt been right on every issue but has taken on a laundry list of problems with no easy solutions and who feel that Carter has been an honest and hard-working president.
"We're not trying to convert anyone now."
The supporters were identified through a massive telephone canvass here and the use of 1976 Carter lists. This week the campaign has showered these selected voters with phone calls and letters and has arranged for bus transportation to the polling place.
Where they have found significant weaknesses, such as in the predominantly Jewish condominiums along the Gold Coast, where residents still are simmering about the Andrew Young affair, Carter has sent in fence-menders such as special ambassador Robert Strauss.
The plan is laid out at Carter headquaters on a chart that looks like a battle plan: name of precinct captain, number of people promised, number of buses required and the 9 a.m. pickup point.
The outcome of the caucuses will not be controlled by public opinion, but by organization. This is a battle of buses with air conditioning versus buses without, of doughnuts versus box lunches.
Even some people in the Carter camp feel this thing has gone overboard, particularly in the dispensing of federal money, which they fear appears unseemly.
Public officials, like Metropolitan Dade County Mayor Stephen Clark, are displaying telegrams that read like this: "On behalf of President Carter I am pleased to inform you of a grant offer of $1.1 million for rehabilitation of Olinda, Larchmont and Lincoln Gardens Park." And they are making wisecracks about the whole process. $"We ought to do this more often," said Clark of the caucuses.
The federal largesse also has left a bad taste with some Carterites who feel they didn't get their share.
In an effort to please Miami's Hispanic mayor, Maurice Ferre, who has promised to deliver several thousand votes, the White House lavished $2 million on Cuban community projects, angering some black organizers who also had promised to deliver votes.
"Everthing's gone to the Cubans." said Clyde Pettaway, deputy director of a black community project, whose role in the Carter campaign is especially important because his voters live within walking distance of the polling place. i
"They [the Hispanics] got a new Job Corps Center and millions for redevelopment. We haven't received anything. No appointments. No grants. Nothing. They passed right over us.
"Sure, I'll be loyal," Pettaway said, "but this has to bother me."
The White House is making no apologies for what it has done here. It wants to win badly and it knows that a loss could set off a rapid erosion of support around the country.
And it wants to win big, for there is a special message in the Florida fray that the White House is eager to get out.
Florida, says Powell, is for "all the big shot commentators," for "'Agronsky and Company' and all the rest who announced that Jimmy Carter better pack his bags and go back to Georgia."