Ronald Reagan, buoyed by what he regards as a winning performance in Tuesday night's presidential debate, today accused Jimmy Carter of wrapping himself in the mantle of other Democratic presidents because he can't defend his own record.
"When I look at what he has done in the last four years, you can see why he spent so little time last night in the debate talking about his record," Reagan told an enthusiastic crowd of about 10,000 in Houston's Tranquility Park. "He has grown fond of referring to Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and John Kennedy. There's one Democratic president he doesn't talk about, and that's Jimmy Carter."
Reagan then recited a litany of negative economic statistics and also charged Carter with weakening U.S. military defenses during his four years in office.
"When Americans are no longer proud of a president who promises so much and delivers so little, yes, it's time for new leadership in America," Reagan said.
In his speech here and another in Fort Worth, Reagan hammered away at Carter's performance on inflation, interest rates and unemployment.
"These disasters didn't happen by accident," Reagan said. "They occurred because of Mr. Carter's lack of competence for the job. They occurred because he has brought instability to the office. They came about because of his insensitivity to the economic suffering of millions of Americans."
Later in his speech, Reagan said that government spending had increased 58 percent during the Carter years and shouted a rhetorical question at the crowd: "How many of you were able to increase your spending by 58 percent in the last four years? Well, that's how much government spending has gone up."
Reagan painted a picture of an American economy which had steadily declined under Carter and which would decline further under four more years of his leadership.
"In just four years his policies have done more to reduce the standard of living than any president in recent memory," Reagan said.
The candidate's own assessment of his debate performance was positive, but with some reservations. He said he thought the debate "leaves us in very good shape" but acknowledged, without being specific, that there were some things he would have done differently if he had to do it over again.
Reagan's mood was high when he started out today and it became higher still in midafternoon, when the campaign obtained the result of an Associated Press survey which indicated that Reagan had won the debate. The Reagan strategy for the rest of the week is a simple one -- hit hard and aggressively on the issues of Carter's record and campaign in key states where the GOP nominee is even or slightly ahead of his opponent.
Reagan's strategists now believe he will win the election barring any major unforeseen event. They are less conccerned than they were last week about the political impact of the release of American hostages in Iran, believing that this issue has less impact on the campaign with each passing day.
One aide said that there is no plan for Reagan to bring up the hostage issue again. Another aide said that the GOP candidate also would try to ignore any last-minute Carter attacks on him.
The Reagan schedule for the final days reflects both the optimism of the campaign and the political strategy which Reagan aides see as a significant advantage over Carter.
That advantage is that Reagan continues to compete for electoral votes in Carter's southern base while all but shutting out his rival in Reagan's home region of the West.
After campaigning today in Texas, where Gov. William Clements predicted a Reagan victory, Reagan will carry his campaign Thursday to Texarkan, Ark. and New Orleans. After a brief stop in New Jersey, he will spend the balance of the week in five key Great Lake states, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio.
The Reagan campaign team has surveys showing the Republican nominee ahead in all of these states except Pennsylvania, where he is even, and Wisconsin, where Carter is ahead and favored.
On Monday, the day before the election, Reagan flies back to his home state of California from Peoria, Ill. His only stop en route is for an airport rally in Portland, Ore., the one far western state except Hawaii where the Reagan strategists give Carter a chance.