President Carter's campaign aides, convinced that Sen. Edward M. Kennedy has been eliminated from the Democratic presidential race, today began turning their attention to an expected general election contest against Ronald Reagan.
But a feisty Kennedy, campaigning in New York state, said he would carry the liberal standard all the way to the Democratic National Convention in August, even if Carter locks up a majority of the delegates in upcoming primaries.
"I'm in this campaign both to raise issues as well as to win the nomination," Kennedy said in an interview in Rochester midway through a 14-hour campaign day. "I can keep going right up to the nomination . . . because the issues I'm raising about equity . . . reach the essence of what the Democratic Party is all about."
Carter campaign officials refused to say publicly that Kennedy should withdraw, but Democratic National Committee Chairman John White said the Massachusets senator should take "a realistic look" at quitting.
"Democrats have made up their minds," White said. "They're going to renominate the president." He said those Democrats who urge a battle to the end are "party busters."
Kennedy has long insisted he would stay in the race until the convention with the expectation of ultimate victory. Today, in light of his big loss in Illinois, a new note was sounded: a suggestion that victory is not the only reason for running.
"I'm in this race for the course because I believe that the issues I'm raising are important," he said, in a speech to campaign volunteers here. "I want to raise these issues of equity and fairness for the people our society has ignored, the people who would bear the brunt of Mr. Carter's inflation program."
Meanwhile, at a news conference in Chicago, the president's national campaign manager, Tim Kraft, and his political pollster, Pat Caddell, both indicated they expect Carter to defeat Reagan in the fall.
"Reagan brings his own problems to an election, and there are Republican votes we would draw," Caddell said.
The extent of the president's victory over Kennedy in Illinois became even more vivid today with the tabulation of almost all the returns.
The result showed Carter with 65 percent of the vote to Kennedy's 30 percent, and with healthy victory margins in every section of the state.
The president's showing was even more impressive in the selection of convention delegates, who were elected separately from the presidential preference balloting. Kennedy had hoped to do better in numbers of delegates won than he did in the popular vote, particularly in Chicago, where he had the support of Mayor Jane Byrne.
But near-final returns from the delegate races showed that Kennedy's defeat was an decisive as the popular vote indicated. Carter appeared to have swept all of the delegates outside of Chicago, and was certain to win 33, and probably more, of the 49 delegates elected in the city.
It is estimated that the 179-member Illinois delegation to the August Democratic National Convention in New York, which will include 27 delegates still to be chosen at a state convention next month, will be dominated by about 157 Carter supporters.
DNC Chairman, White began laying the groundwork for an effort to convince Kennedy to withdraw from the race at a breakfast meeting with reporters today in Washington.
"A presidential race is a good forum to express your basic opinions. But there is a point from which you have to develop some sort of consensus to move forward, White said. "Sen. Kennedy has a great constituency in this party, in this country. If we drag this thing out in a grudging, mean little battle, that base would narrow to the point that it isn't useful to the senator or the party."
But Kennedy offered a preview of his political "new math" today by suggesting that the delegates Carter is winning could be turned into Kennedy delegates at the convention.
"The mathematics, you know," he said in an interview, "Is one of the great myths. You've got to look at how many delegates are bound for the first ballot. Whether they can pass . . ."
White scoffed at that idea. "Technically, practically, legally, there's no way he can do it," he said "That's not a realistic position."
Kennedy today displayed a fighting, freewheeling mood that seemed more suited to a man who had won the previous day's election than for a big loser.
At every stop he jabbed at Carter's new 10-cent-per-gallon import fee on gasoline, saying, "That Carter gas tax is gonna land on the backs of New Yorkers, and you know how dependent you are on gas to get to work." He did not mention his own proposal for government rationing to cut gasoline supplies by 25 percent.