President Carter made his first campaign visit to Ronald Reagan's home state today and pronounced himself satisfied with the outcome of the presidential debate that he chose not to attend.
"I think I came out okay last night," Carter said in response to a question about Sunday night's nationally televised encounter Baltimore between Republican nominee Ronald Reagan and independent candidate John B. Anderson.
But the president coupled this optimistic assessment of his fate as the absent party of the first presidential debate with a renewal of his demand that regan now agree to meet him in a head-to-head debate without Anderson.
Answering questions at a "town meeting" in the working class suburb south of Los Angeles, Carter dismissed Anderson as a Republican who never won a primary, not even in his own state."
"In my judgment," he added, "it is better for the nation, better for my campaign and for Government Reagan's campaign if we have a debate between the two candidates who do have a chance to win."
Carter spoke to a friendly crowd in the gymnasium of North High School here this afternoon before traveling into Los Angeles for his first campaign appearance with his Democratic primary rival, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.).
"We have had our differences, the president and I," Kennedy said in introducing Carter at a Democratic fund-raiser tonight. But, saying that Reagan represented "the forces of negativism, the forces of inaction and the forces of retreat," the Massachusetts senator called on his California supporters -- who helped him carry the state in the primary -- to support Carter in the general election.
The fund-raiser also briefly united the president with his other primary rival, California Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr. But the tone of the affair was lackluster and Carter responded to it with an unispiring version of his stump speech for the day.
Throughout the day the president and his aides adopted an attitude of studied nonchalance about the debate, they chose to duck. Asked his assessment of the debate, Carter at first replied, "How do you know I didn't watch 'Midnight Express'?" -- a reference to the prime time movie that ran on ABC oposite the debate on CBS and NBC.
But White House aides also stepped up their demands that Reagan agree to the debate alone with Carter that they insist they want.
"Reagan just has no excuse now for not accepting a one-on-one with the president," White House press secretary Jody Powell told reporters enroute here.
Powell also predicted that as Election Day approaches Reagan will back down on his insistence that Anderson be included in all of the Debates and agree to appear alone with Carter.
"I think they'll conclude that they need it," he said.
The president left Washington this morning on a two-day trip to four states that lost in 1976. His first stop this morning was in Springfield, Ill., the city that hosted the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, and where today a crowd of Reagan supporters taunted him for his absence from the first debate of 1980.
Chanting "Debate, debate, debate," the crowd at the airport greeded Carter with signs calling him a "chicken" and reminding him that "Lincoln Wasn't Afraid to Debate."
"I'm not going to judge who won," Carter said when asked about the Reagan-Anderson contest. "I'm just looking forward to debating Reagan."
Speaking to a state AFL-CIO convention later today in Los Angeles the president attacked Reagan's and the Republican Party's positions on labor issues. He told the "town meeting" here that the election of 1980 could decide "whether we have peace or war." But in general, there were few direct assaults on Reagan by Carter, who appeared to be backing off from some of the harsher rhetoric he has used against the GOP nominee so far in the campaign.
For the most part, the president's campagin trips this month have been to states that he carried in 1978 as he sought to solidify his base. His two-day swing this week to Illinois, California, Oregon and Washington is his first extensive excursion into what was former President Ford's electoral base in 1976.
Carter strategists contend that Illinois, Oregon and Washington are within their grasp this year, and they have become particularly hopeful in recent days over the president's prospects in Illinois. California, Reagan's home state, would appear to be the toughest of the four for Carter, although his strategists insist they will not give up that rich electoral prize without a fight.
Engery was planned as the president's main theme for the trip. In a speech this morning at Lincoln Land Community College in Springfield, Carter defended his energy policies and suggested that Reagan's election would mean "a precarious, dangerous future at the mercy of uncertain [oil] supplies and uncontrollable prices."
Reagan and the Republicans, he said, "apparently do not understand that we must wage our energy fight on many fronts, public, private and individual. They seem to want us to solve the energy crisis the same way they want us to fight inflation by just consuming more and letting the future take care of itself. That's exactly how we got in trouble in the first place."
While on the Lincoln campus, the president visited a college warehouse to inspect what is known locally as the "Freedom Still" -- a machine that produces alcohol from ground corn.
In Illinois, Carter also addressed a group of state Democratic officials and suggested to them one of the underiving themes of his campaign -- that Reagan is too simple-minded to be trusted with the powers of the presidency.
"There are no easy answers to questions that arise in the Oval Office at the White House," he said, adding that for a president "a crisis that is not handled well can become a crisis for the entire world."