Hamilton Jordan, still in his jogging clothes, is doing a couple of miles around his spacious office as he talks about the campaign that lies ahead.
He walks a couple of laps around his conference table and detours to the huge window that starts almost at the floor and stretches almost to the ceiling. He steps into the window all and studies the elite traffic on the private throughfare below.
"Nothing has ever come easy to Jimmy Carter," he says. "It never has, and I guess it never will. But we're going to win."
The president's chief of staff and chief strategist had been asked about what all of Washington has come to call "The Anderson Factor" -- how John B. Anderson's independent candidacy will affect the November election.
For months, the president's advisers had been hoping that the general election campaign would come down to Republican Ronald Reagan versus Democrat Jimmy Carter.
But the Anderson candidacy has roughed what once seemed like a smooth-sailing dream by introducing new complications and uncertainty.
"Anderson can hurt Reagan more than it hurts us before it is all over," Jordan says.But others in the Carter inner circle are not as sure.
Jordan goes on to recite accurately the litany of Carter's history of comebacks from political adversity: how he came from obscurity in 1976 to win the presidency that people had once laughed at him for seeking; how he came from seemingly sure defeat this past year to beat a Kennedy who once seemed a prohibitive favorite.
"It's never easy for Carter," he says again.
In 1980, as in 1976, the Carter campaign laid out its strategy early and followed it religiously. In 1980, as in 1976, the Carter campaign won with a formula of what polister Patrick Caddell four years ago defined with precision: "Skill and luck."
The president amassed a majority of the Democratic convention delegates this year in large measure because his advisers followed the blueprint laid out a year and a half ago by Jordan.
The seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Iran gave him a timely opportunity to gain points for leadership, as Americans rallied behind their president in time of crisis. Only later in the campaign did it prove to be a political liability.
The Carter advisers got where they are today by following the blueprint: they won early in the South, for example, and in fact piled up huge delegate margins there with relatively little expenditure of campaign funds.
But that blueprint did not carry them further than June 3, the last day of the primary season. Despite all their planning, the president's advisers have not come up with a strategy to take care of the unforseen situation they are faced with today: getting Sen. Edward M. Kennedy out of the race that Carter seems to have numerically won, and rekindling enthusiasm within the party that Carter titularly heads.
"Carter does not have to grovel to Kennedy now," said one of the president's most senior advisers. And the president apparently was determined to do nothing of the sort when he met with his principal adversary, Kennedy, at the White House last Thursday.
It is not that they don't trust each other, but the two sides do have their healthy doubts, which perhaps is why, as Kennedy is making his way down the White House hallway to meet with the president, one of his sides suddenly produces a small tape recorder and palms it toward his boss.
"You just press this button and . . ."
There are Carter people present and they think that is a look of incredulity crossing Kennedy's face as he hastily rejects the machine with a brush of the hand, probably hoping that the incident will go unnoticed.
It is clear, from the way the Carter advisers later recount the story, that they regard this incident before the meeting as far more amusing than anything that transpired in the political session itself.
Both sides tell essentially the same story, each with its own partisan spin. Says a senior Carter adviser: "Kennedy had no interest in anything other than a debate. That's all he cared about. And whenever the president brought up any other subjects, Kennedy got him around to a debate again." Carter talked about trying to reach an accommodation in naming people to the party platform committed and on reaching agreement on the issues. Kennedy talked about a debate.
A senior Kennedy adviser says: "Kennedy asked three times, 'Will you agree to a debate?' And three times, Carter wouldn't give him a flat answer. aInstead he suggested the platform as a substitute."
Both sides agree that at one point, Carter said: "Well, if we had this debate, would you then abide by the choice of the convention and support the nominee?" And that Kennedy essentially did not give a direct response, but said that he still had a number of questions about the economy and so on.
One of Carter's adviser gets to the heart of the problem when he says:
"I can't say that if Kennedy had said that yes he would support the nominee if they had this debate, whether the president was then prepared to go on with it."
So the meeting ends to no one's satisfaction, but that is a problem that is Carter's, not Kennedy's. With his delegate majority amassed and his convention victory virtually assured, it is Carter who must look ahead to the prospects that lie ahead of the August nomination.
The president faces the prospect of trying to campaign in the fall at the head of a party that is deeply disaffected with his leadership. It is not just a problem of the Republican rallying around Ronald Reagan in a summertime lovefest while the Deocrats struggle through a summertime slugfest. sAt least that would get some of the Democratic juices flowing for the fall. It is instead a problem of partywide malaise.
The disaffection among the Democrats runs deep and wide and Carter needs the support of Kennedy liberals in the fall. For he is facing a united Grand Old Party in which even liberals like Jacob R. Javits have decided to duck under the Reagan umbrella in the hopes that there will be a quick end to the Carter reign.
But Carter has opted against pressing actively for a reconciliation with Kennedy -- even though such a gesture would be grounded not in a sense of compassion for his adversary (this Carter clearly does not feel) but in a sense of personal political preservation.
Carter could have laid the groundwork for this back when he decided to end his Rose Garden strategy and come out to campaign in order to assure a June 3 victory in Ohio.
The Carter advisers concede in interviews that they never had a strategy of reconciliation when Carter decided to announce the end of his self-imposed political isolation. They had only a tactic of public relations: the president had planned to say at his April 29 news conference that he felt he could now come out to do some campaigning, what with the hostage situation not resolved but instead apparently hopelessly out of his control.
But no one asked him about it during his news conference. So the next day, White House aides planted the question with one of their own kind, Charles Manatt, chairman of the Democratic National Committee's National Finance Council, who was attending a party session with Carter.
Manatt begged the question: can you please come out and campaign to help us now? The president said sure. He then ad-libbed that he could do it because all of his problems are "manageable" now -- his advisers still grimace at their boss' choice of words.
By exiting the Rose Garden without a strategy, the Carter advisers surrendered a crucial initiative. It was predictable that Kennedy's first response would be that now they could have that debate that Carter had canceled back in December; and it was predictable that Kennedy would also set some conditions that Carter could not accept.
The Carter people summarily rejected the Kennedy debate challenge, which of course has only made Kennedy all the more insistent.
The Carter advisers never tried to come up with a way out of the situation.
They could have, for example, proposed that Carter and Kennedy meet to discuss the issues before television cameras in a non-confrontational, parlor-like setting. Or they could have suggested a similar setting but perhaps with representatives of the Democratic Platform Committee there serving as either an audience or as participants in a town-meeting-like shaping of the party platform.
But they did none of the above. "Jimmy Carter just is not about to debate Teddy Kennedy" one Carter adviser explains. And so that Democratic estrangement remains.
Carter faces in the fall a problem that is a mix of disaffection, recession and Anderson: Most of the nation's Democrats will not feel enthusiastic rallying around a president who must defend economic policies that have produced high unemployment, and who will find his economic explanatons alien to their partisan ears. And a number of them may take comfort by voting for John Anderson.
For public consumption, the Carter strategists talk a good game about how "Anderson will self-destruct . . . Anderson is almost as conservative as Reagan."
But privately, a number of the highest echelon of Carter advisers have become quite concerned that Anderson may cost Carter the election in the fall.
Gallup Polls are a reflection of nationwide popular voting; but general elections are not decided that way. In November, every state is winner-take-all, and is is the total electoral votes amassed stat-by-state that count.
So the Carter strategists have taken a look, state by state, at the fall election with just Carter versus Reagan, and again in a three-way race between Carter, Reagan and Anderson. States were grouped according to being reasonably safe for each candidate, or in doubt. The results surprised even some of the more savvy of that politically attuned inner circle.
In 1976, Carter won with 297 electoral votes, and 27 more than was needed, which meant that a shift of just one big state -- New York, or a couple of mid-sized states -- would have elected Ford instead of Carter.
In a two-way race this year in the Carter camp's own estimates, Carter would fare very well against Reagan.
But when Anderson was added, many of those states that were once considered safe for Carter were now plunged into doubt. The concern was that votes of liberals and moderate Republicans who cannot accept Reagan could go to Anderson. This could result in such 1976 Carter states as New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio, now shifting to Reagan.
The addition of Anderson may also make it difficult for Carter to capture some states that in 1976 when to Ford, but which might well be his if Reagan were his lone opposition. Among these states are Connecticut, New Jersey, Michigan and Illinois.
Hamilton Jordan and Gerald Rafshoon and Patrick Caddell and all of the others who mapped the plans that led to Jimmy Carter's victories this year are looking to the fall now even as they are faced with a Kennedy who won't quit.
They succeeded most of all in making Kennedy the issue of the primary campaign of 1980. And they are looking now to make Reagan the issue for the fall.
"Remember this," says Hamilton Jordan, "I know about what can happen in this state and that state. But I also know that Jimmy Carter always comes back -- and he always comes through in the clutch. That is what I believe."
EPILOGUE: They have kept the secret carefully for months, the president and his pollster, ever since those winter days of January when Kennedy was at his lowest.
As he sat in the Oval Office, Caddell laid out the results of a poll based on open-ended questions.It showed, he explained, that people can see Kennedy -- despite all of his current problems and the re-airing of Chappaquiddick -- as their president. And they can be very comfortable with him sitting in that desk, making decisions.
"The president was more surprised than I have ever seen him," Caddell recalls. They agreed, that day, that the results would not be shared, not even with the staff, lest they leak.For Kennedy was launching a series of strident attacks against the president then, and they did not want him to switch to a more statesmanlike strategy. Said Carter:
"I learned this painfully back when I tried attacking Jerry Ford [in 1976] -- people don't like you attacking an incumbent president."