The controversy over how the Reagan presidential campaign obtained documents and information from inside the Carter White House in 1980 is front page news but not a significant issue around the nation, according to interviews with a dozen Democratic and Republican state chairmen.
"It may not be a big scandal, but night after night on the news it is enough to confirm that the Republicans are up to some sneaky business again . . . ," said Robert Slagle, head of the Texas state Democratic Party.
"It is having some effect inside the party by making Democrats madder. It's easier to get them geared up to work. In general, though, for a lot of the public it falls into line with their belief that all politicians are a pretty damn crass lot," Slagle added.
"People just aren't that interested in it," said Edward Reinecke, chairman of the California Republican Party.
However, he said, "What worries me about it is that it looks like the Democrats are trying to create an issue that is contrary to the best interests of the Republican Party. There is a general disgust with politics, Democrats and Republicans, but I think we as Republicans are a little more vulnerable to that kind of criticism right now."
Contrasting the controversy with Watergate, Colorado Democratic Party Chairman Floyd Ciruli said the Reagan administration "may have some loose screws but no one is mistaking White House chief of staff James A. Baker III and CIA Director William J. Casey for H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman . . . . "
He said that for Colorado "it is a remainder of what happened" when Anne M. Burford headed the Environmental Protection Agency. "That was controversial here."
At the White House, the political impact of the affair was judged to be minimal until late last week.
Some of President Reagan's advisers have said that they feel news reporters are being "overbearing" in their pursuit of a story that amounts to "very little" and in which the public "is not interested."
"We haven't heard one negative word from our people," said a senior administration official referring to former Reagan campaign workers.
"It is not that interesting a story to anyone with perspective on it," the official said, "anyone but reporters and politicians.
"If we've made any mistakes in handling this thing, it was in judging how rabid this whole town would be for the story . . . . We now know we are dealing with public perception as shaped by press more than we are with investigators."
Republican state party chairmen like Don W. Adams in Illinois minimized even that impact. "What debate book case?" he asked. "We just had a meeting of 224 county precinct people, and it was not mentioned. I've met with four potential congressional candidates in the last 10 days, and it didn't come up . . . . There is potential for damage on the ethics of it, but right now there is no public discussion of it out here."
"It's essentially a non-story," said David Norcross, former chairman of the New Jersey Republican Party and deputy general counsel to the Republican National Committee.
"I've attended state meetings in the last few weeks, and it has not come up more than one or two times. Nobody seemed to think it amounted to anything," he said.
"I'm not one who says anything the party does is all right," he added. "I was outraged by Watergate. My only outrage over this story is that it's a nothing and it's not dying because the press is pumping it up."