President Reagan is carefully sticking to prepared scripts and staged media events while avoiding question-and-answer sessions with the press as he leads Republicans into the final two weeks of the campaign for the Nov. 2 congressional elections.
In a strategy that worked for Reagan in 1980, and also was employed by Presidents Nixon and Ford, he is attempting to get his message across to voters with a minimum of mistakes, questions or distractions from the GOP campaign line.
White House officials are currently planning no more presidential news conferences until after Nov. 2. And they are restricting the president's contacts with reporters by closing even his nonpolitical official or ceremonial functions to the press.
Yesterday, White House officials kept reporters away from the president throughout the day, even though he had a full schedule of meetings and events.
The press was barred when Reagan received the final report of a commission he set up on military manpower, accepted an award honoring him for the 1981 tax cut, signed two bills including a major environmental initiative protecting coastal barrier islands, and received a report from the attorney general on the administration's civil rights performance.
Reporters were allowed only to witness the president greeting King Olav V of Norway in a brief session for photographers and television cameras, at which Reagan gave a noncommittal answer to a shouted question about his scheduled meeting today with Lebanese President Amin Gemayel.
Behind these restrictions is a strategy effectively launched in 1980 after candidate Reagan got off to a shaky start around Labor Day with his comment that the Vietnam war was a "noble cause." His campaign advisers felt that coverage of his off-the-cuff statements and stumbles was distracting from planned attacks on President Carter's economic record.
As a result, Reagan's access to reporters was sharply curtailed in September. At most, he sometimes answered questions at curbside while climbing in or out of his limousine.
While they were relaxed later in the campaign, the restrictions helped turn attention away from Reagan's foibles to his message.
With less than two weeks now left before the Nov. 2 elections, a similar tack is being taken at the White House. Reagan will be campaigning in full view from the Oval Office and out in the country, but he will be sticking to the script.
In addition to protecting him from questioning at the White House, aides are keeping "pool" reporters at a distance from the president when he travels, so that shouted questions are not heard or simply brushed off.
Last week, Reagan announced he would guarantee a large purchase of American grain by the Soviet Union against embargo if the Soviets sign contracts in November and the wheat and corn is shipped within six months. The announcement left unanswered a number of questions, but only one got through to Reagan as he was leaving the White House for Camp David.
A reporter asked the president why he thought the Soviets would buy so much grain now. Because "they aren't smart," Reagan quipped without elaboration.
White House officials have also been careful not to put Reagan into a position where he could be questioned in detail about his economic speech last Wednesday, in which he claimed to have made "important progress" on four out of five of the nation's most pressing economic problems.
The president's last news conference on Sept. 28 was his 13th in office. During the same period, Carter had held 38 news conferences, including one on Oct. 10, 1978, less than a month before mid-term congressional elections.
The closest Reagan has come in recent days to being questioned on his policies was during two satellite broadcasts to Republican fund-raisers across the country, including one last night in which he answered queries from GOP loyalists by telephone.
But the questions were screened in advance by the Republican National Committee to highlight Reagan's claimed successes and to give him an opportunity to showcase GOP campaign themes this autumn.
And in last night's broadcast, Reagan indicated he had been given the questions in advance.
Yesterday, the press was barred from watching Reagan receive an award from the National Venture Capital Association.
Named for the late representative William Steiger (R-Wis.), the award, a golden egg, honors public officials who stimulate capital formation and business investment with tax cuts, as Steiger sought to do in the 1978 capital gains tax cut, a precursor to Reagan's 1981 tax bill with breaks for business investment.
One participant said later that because of Reagan's tax-cutting convictions, he was astounded to arrive at the presentation and find it had been closed to public view.
Asked why the media were barred, Deputy White House press secretary Larry Speakes said, "We just decided not to do it."
White House officials had also scheduled a ceremony in the Rose Garden for Reagan to sign a debt-collection bill, but it was canceled.
"It was not one we thought we wanted to cover in a public ceremony," Speakes said.