In West Virginia, a group called "The Bye-Bye-Byrd Committee" is circulating thousands of copies of a comic book with a cover drawing of Senate Minority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) wearing a turkey costume, under a headline, "Are You Sure He's Really One of Us?"
In Tennessee, Democratic Sen. Jim Sasser is called "a murderer" and a man with a "perverted conscience who votes in favor of slaughtering little babies" by Ed McAteer, head of the Religious Roundtable, a right-wing religious group.
In Tulsa, the National Conservative Political Action Committee (NCPAC) has run newspaper ads directed against House Budget Committee Chairman James R. Jones (D-Okla.) which say, "Jim Jones and Tip O'Neill: Two of a kind. And neither one represents Oklahoma."
These are drumbeats of New Right conservatives echoing across the nation's political parade ground. In Washington, these groups are richer and louder than ever before; their leaders are courted by the White House and quoted in the press.
Compared with 1980, this is not shaping up as a particularly good year for these power brokers. Of nine Democratic incumbent senators targeted by major New Right groups, all but two -- Sens. John Melcher (Mont.) and Howard W. Cannon (Nev.) -- hold comfortable leads. And Cannon defeated a Democrat who was supported by such New Right organizations as NCPAC, Rep. James D. Santini, in the primary election.
The New Right has had a considerable impact on the politics of 1982, however.
Rep. William V. Chappell Jr., a "Boll Weevil" Democrat supported by some New Right groups, defeated liberal Reid Hughes in the Florida primary runoff Tuesday. Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.), who was elected two years ago with New Right support, is leading in his reelection campaign.
In North Carolina, Republican William W. Cobey Jr., an ally of Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), moved ahead of incumbent Democratic Rep. Ike Andrews after Andrews was arrested for drunk driving last week. (Andrews pleaded guilty yesterday, and was fined $500.) Cobey, a former athletic director at the University of North Carolina, is one of the most attractive New Right candidates of 1982.
Cobey went on the payroll of a tax exempt "educational" group foundation formed by Helms' Congressional Club after running a respectable, but unsuccessful, race for lieutenant governor in 1980. He is now one of the several dozen House and Senate candidates around the country backed by the Congressional Club, which expects to raise $10 million for this election.
He is using the club's pollster, its direct mail list, its ad agency and its issues. His impact on the race was clear when the balanced-budget amendment came to a vote in the House last week. Cobey's television ads had hammered at Andrews for two weeks for opposing the amendment.
Andrews, who privately had said he considered the amendment "a sham," suddenly had a change of heart. He voted for it. So did the other 10 members of North Carolina's House delegation.
There is little doubt that New Right groups have found themselves on the defensive in 1982 after contributing to the defeat of such liberal Democrats as Sens. George McGovern of South Dakota, Frank Church of Idaho, Birch Bayh of Indiana and John C. Culver of Iowa two years ago.
Democrats learned tough lessons from 1980. Those who overcame attacks from the New Right, like Sen. Thomas F. Eagleton (D-Mo.), advised party members how to deal with the New Right.
In campaign after campaign, candidates decided to challenge the New Right at every turn. When NCPAC announced it wanted to test commercials against Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) in Springfield, Mass., Kennedy campaign aides warned television stations that they could be held responsible for inaccuracies in the ads.
To date, not a single NCPAC ad has run in the state, according to NCPAC spokesman Joe Steffan. As a result, NCPAC pulled out of the Kennedy campaign after spending $522,000, he said.
This leaves Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.) as NCPAC's top target. It now plans to spend from $625,000 to $645,000 in an attempt to defeat him.
Sarbanes is a liberal in the tradition of Kennedy, Church, Culver and Bayh, but other New Right targets are moderates.
NCPAC, for example, plans to spend $300,000 to try to defeat Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Tex.), a favorite of big business, and from $240,000 to $300,000 against Melcher, even though he supports New Right positions on such issues as the Panama Canal and abortion.
The New Right, at times, does seem to be marching toward November with two left feet:
The staunchly conservative Nashville Banner withdrew its endorsement of Sasser's opponent, Republican Rep. Robin L. Beard, for several reasons, including the remarks by the Religous Roundtable's McAteer, who is on Beard's payroll as a campaign adviser. Beard, the newspaper said in an editorial, was campaigning "on outdated conservative demagoguery."
NCPAC, which hopes to raise more than $9 million for the 1982 congressional elections, aired a commercial featuring a middle-aged woman, who said, as "a typical Montana conservative," she couldn't vote for a "big-spending" liberal like Melcher. It turned out that the woman had just moved to the state from California, wasn't registered to vote and had never heard of Melcher before she appeared in the ad.
Some television stations refused to run the ad. Others put the following warning on it: "We alert our viewers that the most recent analysis by the National Taxpayers Union rates Sen. Melcher as an average spender."