six southern Republican chairmen, all staunchly conservative, said today that George Bush would be the vice presidential running mate most helpful to Ronald Reagan in their home states.
The chairmen -- from Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Texas and Virginia -- were among eight southern GOP chairmen at a news conference where they predicted Ronald Reagan had good prospects for carrying President Carter's home region.
These forecasts were predictable. But what the chairmen said when asked about a Reagan running mate was not.
In a region that some conservative politicians expected to show support for New York Rep. Jack F. Kemp or Indiana Sen. Richard G. Lugar, the overwhelming sentiment was for Bush, although every chairman said Reagan's choice would be acceptable.
None of the chairmen mentioned Lugar. One, Matt Patton of Georgia, who said he was for Bush, also praised Kemp. Texas chairman Chet Upham Jr. made a strong pitch for Bush, who ran Reagan an unexpectedly close race in the Texas primary.
"In Texas, I believe very strongly that Bush would be the best choice," Upham said.
Texas is considered a key battleground in the fall election. It was one of the big disappointments for Republicans in 1976, when Carter won the state's 26 electoral votes over Gerald R. Ford.
The six Republican chairmen said they did not think the ticket had been hurt by the party's opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment. Bush is a supporter of ERA, which Reagan opposes.
The only chairmen at today's press conference who did not endorse Bush were Jack Lee of North Carolina, who said his state is supporting Sen. Jesse Helms as a favorite son candidate, and Henry B. Sayler of Florida, who did not express a preference.
Sayler said "Florida could live with Bush" but that it would be necessary for Bush to explain statements criticizing Reagan on foreign policy and tax cuts.
Setting the tone for statements by other chairmen, Bill Harris of Alabama said that southern regional pride expressed for Carter in 1976 had become "disappointment and disillusionment today."
The chairmen said southerners still thought of Carter as decent and well-meaning but that they would vote for Reagan because of inflation and disappointment with Carter foreign policies.
Mike Retzer of Mississippi said recent polling in the state's 2nd congressional district, which gave Carter his margin of victory in Mississippi four years ago, showed Reagan 10 percentage points ahead.