Ronald Reagan and his advisors are moving toward the choice of a well-known national figure for vice president -- a George Bush or a Howard H. Baker Jr. -- rather than someone from the laundry list of dark horses the candidate says he is considering.
The focus on a nationally known "presidential" figure for the number two job emerged clearly yesterday from comments by Reagan's chief of staff Edwin Meese and two strong Reagan congressional supporters -- Rep. Thomas Evans of Delaware and Rep. John Rousselot of California.
Meese said there was "a pretty general consensus" among Republicans that the vice presidential candidate "ought to be presidential" and well-known because of the relatively short time period of the general election campaign.
"If you have to take someone who is almost totally unknown and sell him to the general public, that would be a definite detriment," Meese said at a question-and-answer breakfast with reporters.
Former presidential candidates Bush and Baker, together with former president Gerald Ford, are believed to have been the choice of voters in a recently completed national survey taken by Reagan pollster Richard Wirthlin. Ford has taken himself out of consideration.
Evans, chairman of Reagan's congressional advisory group, said, "I really think the American people would like to feel they are part of the decision-making process, so the ideal candidate would be someone who is well-known -- as opposed to 1968, when Nixon picked [Spiro T.] Agnew because he thought no vice presidential candidate could help him much.
"I have not seen the Wirthlin polls," Evans said, "but my judgement is that they say that someone well-known should be chosen for maximum help to the governor."
Rousselot, a Californian and early Reagan supporter, said "I have heard they are looking for people with good identity -- already established identity." While Rousselot said that might include people like former ambassador Anne Armstrong and Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, Evans said that "darkhorses" would probably be eliminated by the criterion aparently being applied.
The vice presidency came up only briefly during a closed-door luncheon Reagan held yesterday with congressional backers in the Russell Senate Office Building. Participants said Reagan reiterated his usual statements that he wants a running mate who is philosophically compatible and that he wants wide consultation throughout the party before he makes any choice.
Sen. Paul Laxalt of Nevada, cochairman of the Reagan campaign, emerged from the meeting with the candidate and a list of 12 congressional advisory committees that are intended to provide in-depth policy advice to Reagan.
May Reagan insiders believe that lack of coordinated policy advice has been a conspicious problem in the campaign despite Reagan's success in the primaries.
With a few exceptions, most of the names announced by Laxalt read like a Who's Who of congressional conservatives.
Cochairmen of the Foreign Policy Advisory Committee at Sen. John Warner of Virginia and Rep. Robert J. Lagomarsino of California, neither of whom has extensive foreign policy experience. Warner is not on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where two prominent Republican moderates -- Jacob Javits of New York and Charles Percy of Illinois -- were passedover as Reagan policy advisers.
Cochairing the Economic Advisory Committee are Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas and Rep. Jack Kemp of New York, whose proposals for massive tax cuts to stimulate production is a favored Reagan theme. Kemp is the choice of many conservatives for vice president. Some conservatives backed Sen. Lugar, who will be cochairman of the Reagan Issues Committee on Housing and Urban Development.
Some key Reagan backers hope that these advisory committees will sharpen the candidate's understanding of issues on which he has sometimes lacked a detailed response.
Meese alluded to this problem when he was asked which of the various economic advisers around Reagan were gaining supremacy. Picking up the language of the question, Meese said: "In the battle for Reagan's mind, we're declared a cease-fire."
One observer at the breakfast said that the "cease-fire" occurred because the Reagan economists had decided there was nothing worth fighting over.
But Reagan seemed very much the man of the hour yesterday as he strolled among congressional offices and was greeted by lawmakers and tourists alike as the next occupant of the White House.
Reagan was applauded by a crowd in the Capitol Rotunda and by another group outside Republican National Committee headquarters, where he visited briefly before leaving for New York.
There, he spoke to a state GOP dinner. He was introduced by Ford, who devoted his 15-minute speech to a sharp attack on the Carter administration, which he said had created "havoc" in U.S. foreign policy.
"My sole single effort in the months ahead is to get President Carter out of the White House and to replace him with a Republican president, Ronald Reagan," Ford told the cheering Republicans.