Now that former vice president Walter F. Mondale has emerged from the Georgia mountains with former president Jimmy Carter's unqualified endorsement, the question is whether the accolade will pay dividends.
"You're not exactly centrally located," Mondale told Carter Tuesday night after journeying to Carter's remote cabin in north Georgia.
But Mondale came away with what he wanted, his former boss' endorsement of him as a presidential candidate "compatible with the philosophy of the South" and his assertion that Mondale is his own man.
Mondale's aides were very pleased by the well-orchestrated event and are confident that Carter's praise will strengthen Mondale's standing in key southern states, where several early primaries and caucuses are scheduled on the way to the Democratic presidential nomination.
Mondale flew to Maine today to begin two days of intense campaigning among delegates to the state's Democratic convention, which features a hotly contested straw poll Oct. 1.
Mondale is competing here against an aggressive effort by Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), who surprised Mondale by winning a straw poll in Wisconsin in June and hopes for a repeat performance in Maine.
Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio), who has said he will make no special efforts to win straw polls, is nonetheless reported to be hard at work organizing the state. And Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.) also has decided to make a major effort in the straw poll.
Party officials in Maine said the contest is a four-way race. And the Mondale campaign appears concerned enough about its significance to have dispatched several senior staff members to the state this week.
"I think it's very important," Mondale said today.
How useful Carter's comments will be in Maine is not clear, but Mondale's aides are now more confident that they can compete successfully with Glenn in the South, where the former astronaut's conservative image and pro-defense policies are expected to play well.
The meeting with Carter may have helped Mondale ease out of a delicate political problem. By differing with Carter's policies, as he has done during the campaign, Mondale has risked appearing disloyal to the man who elevated him to the vice presidency.
But by failing to do so he risked associating himself too closely with a president soundly rejected by the voters in 1980 and still seen by many as a weak leader.
Carter tried to solve both problems Tuesday night by casting Mondale as a son of the South while rejecting the idea that Mondale should not be allowed to carve his own identity, separate from that of the Carter administration.
Throughout the day Tuesday, Mondale's aides attempted to play down the significance of the evening meeting at Carter's new cabin in a development a few miles from Ellijay, Ga. Asked on the way there if the visit was business, social or a courtesy call, Mondale nodded affirmatively.
But Carter had no intention of being coy. Even before Mondale arrived, Carter had spoken highly of him to local reporters.
"It's obvious that no candidate who hopes to be president of the United States would permit himself or herself to be stigmatized as subservient to the policies of someone else," Carter said before Mondale arrived.
When the questions drifted away from the topic of the day, Carter quickly brought the focus back to Mondale. Asked about Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin's announcement that he will resign, Carter declined to answer, saying it was Mondale's night.
Mondale went to some effort to reach Carter's cabin, but the path had been prepared in advance. Mondale's southern coordinator, Jim Quackenbush, had paid several visits to Carter. And, while the event did not have a script, Mondale had a good idea of what Carter would say.
Mondale, who had sought the meeting, had suggested stopping by Carter's home in Plains, Ga., but the former president countered with an invitation to meet at the mountain setting.
The Mondale campaign made an effort to alert reporters to the meeting, and many responded. That was in sharp contrast to last April, when Carter and Mondale met in Atlanta and the event was virtually unreported.
Mondale aides seemed pleased by Carter's performance, particularly his clear statement that Mondale is not too liberal for southern voters. Carter cited Mondale's background in agriculture and his "fiscal integrity."
"He's deeply committed to a balanced budget," Carter said.
Carter noted several times that, as vice president, Mondale had supported a strong defense.
"I worked very closely with Fritz Mondale as full partners in shaping a very aggressive defense policy," he said.
Asked whether his endorsement would hurt Mondale, Carter said, "I think that's always possible, but I think he's made it quite clear with my full understanding and approval in the last year and a half or so that he's his own man."
That gave Mondale the green light to speak freely about his differences with Carter without fearing that he would offend his former boss. It was the kind of statement that Mondale's mentor, the late Hubert H. Humphrey, longed for from President Johnson during Humphrey's unsuccessful 1968 presidential campaign.
Carter went all out Tuesday night. He and his wife, Rosalynn, met Mondale at the rustic clubhouse in the housing development and brought along several dozen friends. With television cameras rolling, a beaming Carter, dressed in khaki pants, a blue shirt and walking shoes, introduced Mondale to the crowd.
At one point, Mondale autographed a Carter-Mondale campaign poster. At another point, Carter said to Mondale, "They asked me if you were acceptable. I gave them all the reasons." Mondale then joined the Carters at their cabin for dinner.
About an hour later, the two men returned to the clubhouse steps for an informal news conference. They had talked, Carter said, about foreign affairs, defense policy, China, the Mideast, nuclear arms, the Philippines and politics. They also discussed fishing.
"The president is still burdened by the illusion that he's as good a fisherman as I am," Mondale said, smiling.
He then praised Carter, and said, "I've asked for him to support me, and he's agreed to do so."
Mondale said that in his four years as vice president his relationship with Carter "blossomed into a deep friendship," adding that, if elected president, he would turn to Carter for "wise advice."
Asked again about his statement that his endorsement might hurt Mondale, Carter said he meant his endorsement to do no harm. Then he added, "He's not running for vice president; he's running for president, and he'll have his own policies, and he'll make his own decisions."