Ronald Reagan pulled more than 100 delegates out of primaries in Indiana, North Carolina and Tennessee yesterday and moved closed to the point where a home-state victory in California on June 3 would clinch his capture of the Republican presidential nomination, no matter what happens elsewhere.
The day's work left Reagan with almost a 5-to-1 delegate lead over challenger George Bush, the victor in the District of Columbia voting. Bush vowed to remain in the race, hoping for an upset in California that is now the only thing that could plausibly deny Reagan the nomination.
In Los Angeles, Reagan reacted to the results by calling it "a tremendous day for our campaign."
But Reagan took note of the fact that Bush is not ready to get out of the race. Asked in an NBC interview whether he believes victory is now mathematically certain, Reagan replied: "It doesn't make much difference whether I beelieve it or not if he (Bush) doesn't believe it."
Reagan said, however, that he expects to be giving some consideration "within a few days" to whom he would prefer as a running mate on the Republican presidential ticket. It was the first time Reagan had publicly stated he was that close to the nomination.
Yesterday's Reagan sweep was as predictable as the comment from Bush campaign manager James A. Baker III that "we've been buried three times in this campaign. We fully expect to be back."
But the delegate count is beginning to toll the bell for Bush's longshot effort, Reagan was leading for 108 of the 140 delegates at stake yesterday, compared to 18 for Bush, with 14 still to be determined.
Overall, the former California governor's total appeared likely to pass the 800 mark, less than 200 short of the "magic number" for nomination in Detroit. "The California primary winner will claim 168 delegates, and 15 other states are yet to vote in their primaries between now and June 3.
Rep. John B. Anderson was on all four ballots yesterday, despite the fact he has ended his quest for the GOP nomination and is running as an independent.
In Indiana, Bush made no effort to challenge Reagan, but he did bid for votes in North Carolina, Tennessee and the District of Columbia.
In Indiana, with 89 percent of the vote counted, Reagan has 74 percent to Bush's 16 percent, and was winning all 54 delegates.
In North Carolina, with 94 percent of the vote counted, Reagan had 67 percent of the vote to bush's 21 percent. The delegates were splitting 30 for Reagan and 10 for Bush.
In Tennessee, with 97 percent of the vote counted, Reagan had 74 percent to Bush's 18 percent. The delegate count was Reagan 24 and Bush 8.
In the District of Columbia, where Reagan was not in the nonbinding preference poll, Bush was getting 66 percent of the vote and Anderson and others the rest. Bush won all 14 delegates.
Except for the District, Reagan was favored in every battleground by forces of history and Republican party leadership, while Bush was relying mainly on the delegate apportionment formulas for his minority share of the votes.
North Carolina was where Reagan 1976, he was backed this year by Sen. Jesse Helms, a favorite of many conservatives
Thirty-three of the 40 delegates were elected at the district level, with over Gerald R. Ford, an upset that won his first primary victory in 1976 was essential for him to carry his challenge to convention hall. As in only a 10 percent threshold for winning one of the three seats in each district. The other seven were chosen at-large, again with a 10 percent threshold for the first seat.Reagan made two visits to the state and Bush visited Charlotte and the mountain region -- moderate areas -- an effort his state chairman said was aimed at gaining 10 of the 40 votes.
Indiana was the site of another important Reagan victory in the contest with Ford -- the first he was able to win outside the South. This year, it was a cakewalk for Reagan.
With all the delegates picked on a winner-all basis, 33 in the 11 congressional districts and the other 21 at-large, Bush decided his chances of cracking Reagan's strength were so minimal that he filed a formal statement with the Federal Election Commission that he did not plan to compaign in Indiana. The filing ensured that he would not be deprived of his federal matching funds if he fell below 10 percent of the vote.
The battle for Tennessee's 32 votes was more spirited, but once again, Reagan was favored. In 1976, the Californian lost Tennessee by less than 1 percent of the vote to Ford.
But Ford had the backing then of Sen. Howard H. Baker Jr., the popular Tennesseean who sought the presidency unsuccessfully earlier this year and two weeks ago endorsed Reagan. Reagan was also supported by Gov. Lamar Alexander, a Baker protege who, like many others in his state GOP organization, is hoping Reagan taps Baker as his running mate.
Republicans elected three delegates from each of the eight congressional districts and three more at-large, in each instance with a 15 percent threshold for winning the first delegate. The last five delegates are to be named by the Tennessee GOP state committee.
The District of Columbia ballot included a nonbinding preference poll and a contest between a Bush slate and two uncommitted slates -- one of which was informally aligned with Reagan. Reagan did not campaign in the District and Bush made only brief appearances here.