The Oldest Established Permanent Floating Cattle Show in Democratic presidential politics is playing Springfield, Mass., this weekend, and an early preferential straw poll has turned an "issues convention" into a side show of campaign ballyhoo.
Hundreds of candidate hours, thousands of campaign-worker hours and probably well over a hundred thousand Democratic campaign dollars have been spent in the last few weeks by the presidential candidates in the hope of winning the votes of 4,039 delegates who will attend the state Democratic party's convention in Springfield Saturday.
They are spending their precious political resources not with an eye toward locking up the 1984 Massachusetts primary, which is still a year away, but with an eye on the national media--which, in turn, will be there keeping an eye on the candidates. They have invested more time and money in it than in previous events in California and Georgia.
Some rough preliminary tracking samples indicate that former vice president Walter F. Mondale is the leader among the delegates, scoring in the high 20s, with Sen. John Glenn of Ohio next among the active candidates in the low 20s.
The preliminary maneuvering has caused some consternation in Mondale's camp, however, because a nonexistent candidate appears to be up there in the 20s along with Mondale and Glenn. Almost a quarter of the delegates--the labor block representing the AFL-CIO and the state teachers association--have vowed to vote for "Jobs" rather than voting for any candidate.
This noncommittal stance was pressed vigorously on the labor delegates by AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland, who is working to keep labor uncommitted for the time being in the hope that the federation can unite and endorse a presidential candidate in December, before the first primaries and caucuses.
Mondale is presently the overwhelming favorite to win that AFL-CIO endorsement.
In another pre-convention maneuver, the nuclear freeze advocates this week decided to join labor's uncommitted "Jobs" chorus rather than vote for one of the candidates.
The Mondale strategists are worried that without labor's big block he could in effect lose while winning the straw poll, by finishing just ahead of Glenn, or, even worse, that he could lose to Glenn--period.
Glenn has shown significant strength among the delegates, even though they are considerably more liberal than the statewide party as a whole.
This year, there is a difference of opinion among the top party and candidate operatives over the value of the nonbinding straw poll, which is the creation of state party Chairman Chester G. Atkins.
The most significant public relations gain may be made not by the leaders but by the second echelon.
Sen. Alan Cranston of California has put in more effort than any of the others. He has had two full-time and five part-time campaign aides working the state. He has spent at least seven days campaigning there and has met with about 1,000 of the delegates by his own estimate--with 700 by the recalculated estimate of his spokesman. He has telephoned many others and has sent three mailings to all the delegates.
Mondale had one full-time aide in the state and recently brought three others in. He made two mailings and spent four days in the state.
"We are at a double disadvantage," said Mondale campaign manager Robert Beckel. "We have to live up to our front-runner expectations, and we have to do it with that 'Jobs' thing. If the labor delegates were polled, it is our belief that we would win their support overwhelmingly."
Glenn was the only candidate to have a paid staff of telephone bank workers calling all of the delegates. He made two mailings to the delegates, had one fulltime staff aide in the state, and spent three days campaigning there. He also won the endorsement of state senate president William M. Bulger.
Hart surprised strategists in the other camps by seeming to taper off his effort when they were expanding theirs. He had two mailings to delegates, had one fulltime aide in the state, and spent four days campaigning there but is trying to play down the event's significance.
"Our rating will reflect the amount of work we did and the amount of investment we made in the state, which was modest," said Kathy Bushkin, Hart's press secretary. "And the results will also reflect the investments of the others. We feel Alan Cranston is going to do well because he has overwhelmed the state. If he does well, then Alan Cranston deserves the credit--it will be more because he has done something than because the others have not.
"It's just a matter of how you make your decisions and work toward building a lasting organization . . . . Six months from now, we'll all look back and say 'Why did everyone spend so much time and money on that Massachusetts straw poll?' "
The other two candidates, Sen. Ernest F. Hollings of South Carolina and former governor Reubin Askew of Florida, will address the convention, but made little effort in the straw poll.
Estimates of how much has been spent vary. Glenn aides guess that Mondale has spent $80,000 and that Glenn has spent about a quarter of that. Mondale's strategists say that he has spent about $25,000 and that Glenn has spent at least that much.
"To have to lay out all of these resources on a straw vote--it gets to you," said a senior Mondale strategist. "It gets you angry. What does it say about the process? And what does it say about what we are doing as a party?"