Andy Robustelli, the home-town legend who used to spend autumn Sunday afternoons putting opposition running backs on the injured reserve list and himself in the Football hall of Fame, introduced the presidential candidate.
John Davis Lodge, Henry Cabot's younger brother, who proved that pre-war performances on the back lot at Paramount in epics like "Murders at the Zoo" and "Queer Cargo" were not sufficient to disqualify him for election as Connecticut's governor in 1950, accompanied the candidate.
And the candidate, on the same day that Illinois Republicans were strongly endorsing him in their primary, did not disappoint Davis or Robustelli or anyone else n the lunch crowd at Laddin's Terrace in Stamford. That is, unless the canny Bob Strauss had a scout in the audience for the president's reelection committee. Because a scouting report would stop all the reported salivating at Carter headquarters over the probable November match-up with Ronald Reagan.
Reagan, the wise money around Washington tells us, is Jimmy Carter's guaranteed ticket to a second term. Reagan, with his narrow true-believer constituency, will be anotehr Barry Goldwater. All Jimmy Carter has to do between now and Nov. 4 is be, and be seen as, the reasonable alternative. This July, the wisdom goes, the Republican convention at Detroit will be the world's largest kamikaze charter.
Running presidential campaigns by historical analogies can be very risky. Ronald Reagan is not Barry Goldwater. 1980 is not 1964. Then, the principal resentment with the Democratic president's policies was among white southerners. This year, resentment is not regional. Inflation has no fixed address and is limited to on one time zone. Reagan won twice in Calfornia with Democratic votes and his campaign's message in Connecticut indicates that will be his general election strategy this time.
What other campaign can boast that its candidate signed into law the "toughest water pollution control laws in the nation" and a 20 percent cut in "the oil and gas depletion allowance"? Reagan's own campaign literature trumpets his record as governor: he "increased welfare benefits to the truly needy by an average of 43 percent" and "granted annual cost-of-living increases to Aid to Families with Dependent Children recipients, the elderly and the infirm . . ." This, of course, is the same candidate who tells his audience about cleaning up the welfare mess in Sacramento, where, when he became governor, "16 percent of all the welfare cases in the country were in California."
This emphasis of the Reagan campaign seems to have grasped an essential truth in American politics and the electoral problems of conservatives. American voters are compassionate people who want to be able to think of themselves as compassionate. But at the same time, and to the same degree, American voters do not want to be taken for suckers by those who, they believe, are collecting from government programs for which they are not eligible.
In his Connectiuct campaign, Reagan is responding to both impulses. He is telling voters that they can be simultaneously tough and compassionate, that they do not have to be defensive about objecting to rip-off programs. Too many unsuccessful conservative candidates have failed to address the compassion in voters' character and simply scratched the mosquito bite of their rage at being exploited.
What Bob Strauss and his colleagues in the Carter campaign should be concerned about is that in this year's primaries Reagan has consistently and overwhelming won the group of voters earning between $10,000 to $15,000 a year. If Ronald Reagan, the unchallenged tribune of working class values, can perfect this message, he might very well be able to steal the base of the Democratic vote away from Jimmy Carter.
There are little signs of this in the Reagan speech to a majority Catholic crowd in Stamford. His Kemp-Roth tax cut plan is the lineal descendant of what President John Kennedy ("over the objections of his economic advisers") proposed in 1963. It worked then and it can work again. Reagan avoids the verbal lodge handshake of of Republicans by using the adjective "Democratic" to describe the opposition party. He apparently understands that when Republicans drop the "ic," it is almost as much of an insult as someone telling the neighborhood nun that he admires the work of the "Roman" church.
For voters who are voluntarily on the taxi squad of the Democratic Party, one element of the Reagan message is especially appropriate. Since Vietnam, the prevailing values of the majority party have been based on the premise that it is acceptable to be rich, it is virtuous to be poor and the only sin is to be in the middle clas -- you know, all those Archie Bunker types who go to bowling banquets and think ERA means earned run average.
In Connecticut, the Reagan comapaign has welcomed these people with hospitality and honor. Not only John David Lodge, but Andy Robustelli and a lot of people who never played in Yankee Stadium are in the Reagan campaign. Of his 300-member state steering committee, 71 are Italian-Americans, as are four of the six statewide coorinators -- and one of the other two is a female state senator who is an advocate in the legislature of the pro-choice position on abortion.
For these people and their families, the Reagan answer to a Democratic president who foresees a generation of sliding expections is "to build a bigger pie." According to voter polls in the primary states, Carter is winning an overwhelming majority of the voters who belive a president cannot really do anything about inflatiion or the economy. In a reversal of historic roles, this year it is the Republican candidate who is telling voters that we can lick inflation and that tommorrow can be a lot better than yesterday. It is impossible to imagine the Carter campaign recycling the last successful incumbent's battle cry of "Four More Years."
If the Carter People can succeed in portraying the California conservative as someone too old or too impulsive to manage the nation's foreign policy in dangerous times, someone who would equip every second lieutenant with his own nuclear warhead, then the president and his stewardship will not be the pivotal issue this fall. Reagan will be the issue. And if that is the case or the popular perception Jimmy Carter will probably be reelected regardless of economic conditions. But if the Reagan campaign can persuade voters that its man is a decisive, effective leader who successfully governed that state that is our most populous and that, on its own, would be "the world's seventh-largest economy," then Washington, the orginal company town, can start throwing out its grits and Gideons, because the Gipper may win the big one.