Despite all the fanfare and theatrics the Billy Carter story is generating in Washington, it appears to be playing to unenthusiastic audiences around the country.
In Boston, President Carter's primetime televised news conference drew no calls to any of the three networks. A Democratic state committee official attended a campaign breakfast yesterday morning with 150 senior citizens, and "not one of them brought up the subject."
In Illinois, the Chicago Sun-Times has received few comments from readers, despite front-page stories on Billy Carter for 10 of the last 14 days.
"What is Billy Carter?" asked one convention delegate pledged to the president. "He's a beer-drinking jerk. If the president is in trouble, its because of the economy, not Billy."
Said former governor Edwin W. Edwards in Louisiana, "I never thought it had been worthy of all the attention it had been getting in the press."
"It's a temporary fascination with a personal drama," said Mervin Field, director of the California Poll. "Attention is being diverted from the nation's real issues."
Perry Ransberger, manager of a sandwich shop in Visalia, Calif., said the Billy Carter controversy is "a laughing matter around here -- kind of a public shoot-out between two brothers."
Much of the reaction that citizens have registered has supported the president, particularly after his television appearance Monday.
"Carter's story washed: we got a good strong outpouring of support and sympathy for him," said Jim Dunbar, morning anchorman at KGO radio station in San Francisco. "There may be as much resistance as ever to Carter politically, but people seem to be accepting his explanation of being a brother caught in a crack."
Some editorial reaction has been less sympathetic, however.
One California paper, the San Jose Mercury News, urged Carter to drop his drive for renomination, lest a "sleazy but insubstantial scandal" overshadow the national debate over political issues.
And in New Hampshire, William Loeb, the controversial conservative who runs the Manchester Union Leader, yesterday published a frontpage editorial urging Carter to resign. "So far, Jimmy hasn't said a word about it," said Joe McQuaid, the paper's managing editor.
In California, the executive director of the state Democratic Party worried about political fallout from the Billy Carter controversy but found a modest silver lining to the political cloud.
Sales for the Party's charter flight to the upcoming national convention in New York had been slow until two weeks ago because the outcome of the event had seemed certain, said Dennis DeSnoo. But the presidents' weakened political condition has now filled the plane with people "eager to see what happens.
The story certainly hasn't played in Peoria.
Said Tom Farmer, manager of Dixon's Fish Dock there: "My coworkers figure Billy is just up to something else again, but nobody knows exactly what. And they could care less, I suppose." Conversation at the dock yesterday, said Farmer, was about catfish, not Carters.