In a contest where the outcome has seemed clear for weeks, Republican presidential candidates Ronald Reagan and George Bush have settled on winning separate battles in Saturday's Texas primary.
Reagan, long the favorite to win the popular vote and a sizable majority of the 80 delegates at stake, is trying to avoid a psychological scarring at the hands of Bush, who in turn is trying to score just well enough to justify continuing his fight to the GOP convention in July.
Bush knows he's on the brink of being bounced out of the race and has let audiences here this week know he resents being shoved out in the name of party unity.
His face red with emotion, he told a crowd in Dallas this week he didn't "need any lectures" from the Reaganites who are urging him to get out. "Hell with 'em," he shouted. "We're in this thing to win."
But he is not in Texas to win, only to survive.
If appearances were everything Bush would be the front-runner here. He has spent the entire week campaigning in Texas, while Reagan did not arrive until Wednesday. Bush also is running a full-fledged media campaign, the only candidate in either party to do so.
"We're moving up, and fast," said Shirley Green, Bush's Texas campaign director. "But I don't know how it will translate into the popular vote and delegates."
The popular vote determines the distribution of delegates, but the delegates are awarded by congressional district. The winner in each of the state's 24 districts gets three delegates, the loser none. Another eight delegates are given to the overall winner in the state.
Bush may be competitive in only about six or seven of the 24 districts -- mostly around Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin and San Antonio -- and has little hope of beating Reagan in the statewide popular vote. He would be happy to win 12 of the delegates.
Bush has reminded his audiences this week that he came from far behind to beat Reagan in the popular vote in Pennsylvania, and says, "We're going to do here what we did in Pennsylvania."
Today, at a press conference with Gov. Bill Clements in the Texas Senate chambers, Bush said, "The feeling I have is identical to the feeling I had in Pennsylvania. The only question is time. Do I have enough time to do the impossible -- defeat Gov. Reagan in Texas?"
His aides believe Bush will fall short and they hope he can win 40 to 45 percent of the popular vote, and a dozen or so delegates, and proclaim it a psychological victory because the former California governor won all 100 delegates in 1976.
But Reagan's Texas chairman, Ernest Angelo, says the "odds were never that good" that Reagan would win all the delegates this year. "George is from Texas," he said. "One of those districts is the one he represented in Congress some years ago."
Reagan's strategists nonetheless anticipate a big victory even if it is not as sweeping as they once believed.
In a press conference today in Richardson, Reagan was asked by a Texas reporter about a prediction made by Angelo that he would win 75 of the state's 80 delegates.
"I just hope and pray he's right," Reagan said. If left to my own devices, I'd hope he's conservative. I'd be delighted if he were right."
However, others in the Reagan entourage said that Bush might win as many as 12 delegates.
Angelo admits Bush is "making a dent" in Reagan's lead. "I think what's happening is that we ran into problems with the spending limit," he said. "We can't compete on advertising. There's no question that was the sole reason for the loss in Pennsylvania."
But Angelo says Bush is in more trouble than Reagan was this time four years ago. "In 1976 we were in a position of needing to win big here to give momentum to Reagan's campaign nationally," he said. "Bush's in the same position now, only he's worse off. Even a win here wouldn't put him in position to win the nomination -- or even contest it."
But Reagan's advisers would like to end the nomination fight as quickly as possible and they don't want to give Bush the opportunity to play with Saturday's results. As a result, Reagan added campaign stops this week in Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston. "He's touching bases in areas where Bush is showing strength," said Chet Upham Jr., Texas state GOP chairman. "He's just ensuring that his strength is there."