President Reagan's choice of Sen. Paul Laxalt to oversee the Republican National Committee "is the strongest indication he could give at this time" of his intention to seek a second term in 1984, an administration official said yesterday.
As Reagan looked on and smiled, Laxalt, one of the president's closest friends in Congress, told a White House luncheon of Republican Party leaders yesterday that he took the job because "my political instincts told me strongly that he would be a candidate."
Later, the Nevada senator told reporters that while Reagan had offered him "no formal commitment" to seek reelection, "If I didn't think he was running for president, I wouldn't be taking this position."
The question of the president's intentions in 1984 has provoked speculation for some time, but senior administration officials, who asked not to be identified, said it is too early for Reagan either to declare himself a candidate or to rule out a second term.
"When you look at it from his standpoint, it is too early to make a determination," Laxalt said. "He doesn't know what the political situation is going to be, what his own situation is going to be."
The troubled economy "is one of the problems, obviously," Laxalt added.
"I think it is going to take a bit more time for him to have enough political hay in the barn, so to speak, for him to make a valid determination whether he should run again."
But Laxalt said he agreed with those Republicans who have been encouraging Reagan to announce his intentions as early as possible, so that other GOP candidates can prepare if he decides not to run.
Reagan announced his choice of Laxalt yesterday at a White House luncheon attended by the senator, outgoing party chairman Richard Richards, co-chairman Betty Heitman, 11 national committee regional chairmen and Richard S. Williamson, assistant to the president for intergovernmental affairs.
Richards quoted the president as saying he wanted Laxalt to assume a newly created post, "general chairman," in which Laxalt would oversee not only the RNC but also the White House political operation and the congressional campaign committees "so they all come under one roof and one leader."
Another official said this would also include a Reagan reelection committee if one is established.
The regional GOP leaders expressed approval of the Laxalt choice at the luncheon and the senator is expected to assume the post formally when the national committee meets in January. Laxalt, who plans to keep his Senate seat, said he has no intention of remaining neutral in the 1984 presidential competition. "I'm not very good at neutrality. I'm a Reagan man."
Laxalt expressed a strong preference for Frank Fahrenkopf, the Nevada GOP chairman, to assume the title of RNC chairman and the day-to-day responsibilities of running the committee.
Fahrenkopf is expected to get the job, since he has the "unanimous support" of the other regional party chiefs.
A White House official said Laxalt was initially "cool" to the proposal that he take the party's helm, but he accepted last week after meetings with Reagan and senior White House officials James A. Baker III, Michael K. Deaver and Williamson.
In his weekly radio address yesterday, Reagan outlined the agenda he would like the lame-duck Congress to follow when it returns Nov. 29, including passage of 11 remaining fiscal 1983 appropriations bills. He also mentioned the balanced-budget constitutional amendment, regulatory reform legislation, enterprise zones and Clean Air Act revisions.
Giving a response for the Democrats, Rep. Tony Coelho (D-Calif.) called attention to the 10.4 percent unemployment rate in October and urged Reagan to join with Democrats in reducing joblessness. Despite the encouraging signs on Wall Street, he said, "The people on Main Street need some positive signs that their government--including their president -- is listening."