Ronald Reagan, in an impressive show of support, yesterday moved to put a "psychological" lock on the Republican presidential nomination before Tuesday's Pennsylvania primary.
In a series of carefully orchestrated moves designed to create a bandwagon effect and demonstrate that Reagan enjoys support from all parts of the Republican Party, there were these developments:
Illinois Rep. Philip M. Crane, who tried to run as a young alternative to Reagan, withdrew from the GOP race and endorsed the former California governor.
Thirty-six members of Congress, including Minority Whip Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.) and Richard B. Cheney (R-Wyo.), endorsed Reagan.
"I think the contest is virtually over at this point," said Cheney, White House chief of staff in the Ford administration. "Gov. Reagan has proven conclusively that he can win in the South, the East and the Midwest."
Ohio Gov. James A. Rhodes, another party moderate, invited state GOP leaders to Columbus on Sunday, when he plans to endorse Reagan.
Ohio's primary is on "Super Bowl Tuesday," June 3 -- the same day as voting in Reagan's home state, California, where he has a huge lead in the polls, and in New Jersey, where a host of party leaders threw their support behind him on Tuesday.
Reagan announced the formation of a campaign policy council that includes such stalwarts of the Nixon and Ford administration as former secretary of state William P. Rogers, former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld and former economic adviser Alan Greenspan.
The moves were a preemptive strike against George Bush, Reagan's only opponent Tuesday in Pennsylvania. The Reagan camp would like to create the impression that Reagan's nomination in July is a "psychological reality" and that the remaining primaries are but a formality.
The moves showed that while Bush has concentrated on winning the "beauty-contest" portion of the Pennsylvania primary, Reagan's forces have skillfully maneuvered behind the scenes to block Bush in future contests. h
The Reagan campaign maintains that Bush must win nine of every 10 remaining delegates to capture the nomination. "Politicians all over the country are making similar calculations," said Reagan press spokesman James Brady. "They know the train is leaving the station and it is time to get aboard."
Bush political director David Keene charged that the moves showed Reagan "is worried about us" in Pennsylvania. Bush has been gaining rapidly on Reagan there the last two weeks, Keene said. If Bush does not upset the former governor, "at the very least we're going to show Reagan he doesn't have it wrapped up in a head-to-head matchup," Keene said.
In an attempt to get some momentum going, the Bush camp yesterday announced it had picked up the support of six Arkansas delegates previously committed to Sen. Howard H. Baker Jr. and John B. Connally. This brings Bush's delegate total to 92, compared with 573 for Reagan and 59 for Rep. John B. Anderson, with 998 needed for nomination.
In the Pennsylvania delegate race, Reagan has the edge in endorsements and an advantage in where his delegates' names appear on the ballot. His managers claim he will win at least 50 to 55 of the 83 convention votes, no matter who wins the "beauty contest."
"Things look good from a practical standpoint," Reagan said yesterday at the North Dakota Republican convention. "I'll win, I've been told, a sizable majority of the Pennsylvania delegation. But George Bush is spending about $1 million to try to win the beauty contest, which will not change a single delegate."
The success of the Reagan moves this week demonstrates more than any thing else that much of the Republican Party accepts the inevitability of his nomination and wants to unite behind the ex-actor.
"I'm satisfied when we have a candidate who can win. And I don't want to complicate life with unnecessary confusion," said New Jersey GOP Chairman David Norcross on Wednesday. "We've got to get going on to November and I don't want to spill blood unnecessarily between now and then." n
Norcross' endorsement is expected to help Reagan win 55 of New Jersey's 66 GOP delegates.
"There are two questions we have to ask ourselves about a presidential candidate," said Minority Whip Michel. "The first is whether he or she deserves to win -- does he have the philosophy, background and ability to communicate that we need in the White House? The second question is whether the candidate can win in November. . . . Ronald Reagan passes both tests."
Reagan has been trying since the outset of the campaign to broaden his support. With the nomination all but wrapped up, his supporters have intensified efforts. "We're doing everything we can to make it easy for every Republican to endorse Ronald Reagan," said Richard Wirthlin, Reagan's chief strategist and pollster. "This is no 1964 campaign. We're going to have a united party."
The Rhodes endorsement was seen as particularly significant. The Ohio governor is a pro who rarely does anything he thinks will not benefit his career. Earlier this year, he worked behind the scenes first for Connally and then for Gerald R. Ford, when the former president was considering entering the race.
Rhodes' endorsement was regarded more of an acceptance of the political realities than anything else. But it was important in that it blocked off one more avenue of possible support for Bush.
Crane's withdrawal had been expected for weeks. His "early-bird" bid for the presidency never really got off the ground.