Ronald Reagan and his handful of close advisers are weeding out their list of vice presidential contenders in what has become, largely, a search for the man with the fewest negatives.
On the whole, Reagan would rather run alone.
A survey by Reagan's pollster and strategist, Richard Wirthlin, showed that each of Reagan's possible running mates lowered the standing of a Reagan ticket slightly, with the sole exception of the addition of former president Gerald R. Ford, who has firmly ruled himself out of contention as Reagan's vice president.
The inclusion of Ford as Reagan's running mate boosted the Reagan ticket by 2 points in Wirthlin's national survey, which was done as a prelude to the selection of a vice president.
There are, officially, eight names on the Reagan list of vice presidential finalists. There are, in fact, a few less than that, according to sources close to the man who next week will be officially crowned as the 1980 Republican presidential nominee.
George Bush, who fought Reagan hardest and lasted longest in the battle for the presidential nomination, now has the widest support for the vice presidential nomination both within Republican circles in general and within Reagan's inner circle in particular. But Bush does not yet have the support of Reagan, according to sources close to the former California governor. So the sifting continues.
Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) has emerged as the man with the fewest negatives that could detract from his own nomination next week and the Reagan ticket in the fall. But he also is evaluated as having few positives to bring to the ticket. He is colorless, ordorless, but tasteful. Still, the search goes on.
After Ford removed himself from consideration, there were eight men on the list of Reagan finalists that was officially leaked. They are George Bush, Senate Minority Leader Howard H. Baker Jr. of Tennessee, Sen. Lugar, Rep. Jack F. Kemp of New York, Rep. Guy Vander Jagt of Michigan, Sen. Paul D. Laxalt of Nevada, former defense secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and former treasury secretary William E. Simon.
Reagan and his advisers are apparently moving toward the conclusion that the Republican ticket should be balanced, but not too balanced.
Balanced: Reagan has said that he probably should not select someone who, like himself, is from the Far West. That would seem to rule out his close friend and fellow conservative, Laxalt.
But not too balanced: Reagan's advisers concede that they are concerned about risking the wrath of their own right wing of the Republican Party if they choose Baker, who has been under vitroilic attack from conservatives.
Those close to Reagan caution that no decisions are final, and none as yet is really firm. Still, they say, in Reagan's list of eight finalists, some are clearly more equal than others.
Thus the prospects of the familiar figures from presidential campaigns past, such as Bush and Baker, are not without their flaws. And the prospects of others who have not been considered as giants among the stands of Republican presidential timber -- such as Lugar and Kemp -- are somewhat better than outsiders might expect. -
The vice presidential prospects of the Reagan finalists appear, at this time, like this:
BUSH: He topped most every survey of Republicans in general and Republican convention delegates as their first choice for the second spot. He campaigned strongly against Reagan and showed important strength in large industrial states, such as Pennsylvania and Michigan, that Regan will need in the fall.
Most of the Reagan inner circle -- even the conservative ideologues -- are said to prefer Bush because they believe that he is sufficiently conservative in his views, and that he can hold the moderate Republican and keep them from defecting to the independent campaign of John B. Anderson. And this, they say, could mean the difference between winning and losing the presidency.
But there is this one other factor: Reagan. He is not overly fond of Bush, and he is said to have doubts about Bush's ability to handle the presidency, if required to serve.
"I don't think there is a personal dislike," said one Reagan source. "But I think Reagan does not think Bush is presidential."
It goes back, in large part, to that debate in Nashua, N.H. Reagan came away feeling that Bush had not handled himself well under pressure in that contest in which the other Republican candidates were excluded -- and all of them wound up attacking Bush for condoning their exclusion.
Reagan has also indicated that he will not want someone who is diametrically opposed to his support of a constitutional amendment to outlaw abortion.
But Reagan officials believe that Bush, who has said he does not favor a constitutional amendment, could be made acceptable on this issue by just agreeing not to oppose such an amendment, even if he cannot support one.
BAKER: The Senate minority leader is probably just about as conservative in his national defense and economic views as Bush, yet he has come under far more scathing attack from the conservative activists of the Republican Party.
The Conservative Digest recently devoted most of an entire issue to a list of reasons why Reagan should not pick Baker, including a cover illustration depicting Baker in a big yellow dunce cap.
A couple of weeks ago, Baker appeared on "Face the Nation," and, appearing uncomfortable in his role, outlined at length reasons why he felt Reagan should not select Baker as his running mate.
His reasons came down to the fact that they have differed on some major issues, including the Panama Canal vote and a constitutional amendment on abortion.
Baker and Reagan sources both deny that Baker has been eliminated, and they stress that there has been no unofficial word passed along from the Reagan camp to the Baker camp that he is out.
One prominent Republican close to Baker explains his television performance by recalling how Baker was publicly embarrassed in 1976 when he was listed as the vice presidential front-runner only to be bypassed by Ford's selection of Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas instead.
"Howard was hurt very badly in '76," says this Republican. "He just vowed that he'd never go down that road again -- and now he's found himself in almost the same place in the road and in danger of getting hit again. So he was just trying to condition everyone."
Some in Reagan's inner circle vehemently oppose Baker on ideological grounds. But his prospects may have been kept alive this week when Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), a staunch conservative, endorsed Baker for the vice presidency to give the GOP ticket broad appeal.
LUGAR: "There is probably less against Lugar than anyone else," said a senior Reagan official. Lugar is viewed within the Reagan camp as conservative, but with good ties to moderates, and very intelligent but very dull. "He's kind of everybody's compromise candidate," the source said, adding that Reagan does not know Lugar well.
KEMP: He is, in many ways, a counterweight to a Lugar compromise. Kemp is, by American political standards. colorful: a former pro football quarterback as complement to a former Hollywood actor -- central casting's idea of a dream ticket. He is the co-author of Reagan's favorite Tax-cutting plan, the Kemp-Roth bill. iReagan is very fond of him personally. But one Reagan insider said "Kemp comes across as too young, too rash-rahish, too immature."
SIMON: His Wall Street background and Treasury Department experience have kept him alive as a prospect, but his expansive ego and high-handed dealings with fellow Republicans have made him a number of GOP enemies, some of whom are in the Reagan camp but, perhaps importantly, none of whom is Reagan.
RUMSFELD: As former defense secretary, NATO ambassador, Ford White House chief of staff and congressman, Rumsfeld is viewed as long on experience and short on negatives, both of which could be pluses for his selection. He also has strong ties to moderates, which both helps and hurts him within the Reagan camp.
VANDER JAGT: A strong orator, from a key state, Michigan, he was included on the list in large part to promote interest in his keynote address to the Republican convention next week. Reagan does not know him well, and he is viewed as not adding anything to the ticket. He is not viewed within the Reagan camp as a prime candidate.
LAXALT: Since he comes from a Far West state -- even worse, one with virtually no electoral impact -- Laxalt is considered likely to remain Reagan's close friend but not his vice president.