Throughout the first nine months of 1983, Walter Mondale has managed to retain his position as the acknowledged leader for his party's 1984 presidential nomination. That is no small achievement. It means the Minnesota Democrat and his campaign did a number of things well and that they also resisted doing some other things that might have jeopardized that lead. But what Fritz Mondale and his campaign must do in the next couple of months will be both much more difficult and much more important.
Done Right in 1983: 1) Capturing a presidential nomination means simultaneously managing campaigns in more than two dozen different states. That takes money. Raising money requires skill and reflects support. Mondale has been able to raise a lot more money than his primary opponents. Adequate funding enables a presidential campaign to plan ahead and to survive an unexpected setback. 2) To the surprise of some and the relief of others, Mondale, in his public appearances, has played to uniformly good reviews. He has most definitely not hurt Sominex sales. Crowds have generally come away from Mondale speeches more impressed than they had expected to be. 3) His upcoming endorsements by the AFL-CIO and the National Education Association look to be risks worth taking for Mondale. None of Mondale's Democratic opponents will be able--without subjecting himself to an indictment for hyprocrisy--to charge Mondale with being a "tool" of labor or the teachers. 4) The deft handling of the Jimmy Carter endorsement of Mondale consisted of his old boss's bestowing on Fritz both his blessing and his public permission to disagree with any of Carter's unpopular policies.
Not Done Wrong in 1983: Mondale has sustained no major institutional or individual defections from his candidacy. He has yet to lose any appreciable segment of his natural base--labor, blacks, activists, Democratic Party people--to John Glenn or any other announced opponent. Most impressive, in the face of Mondale's defeat by Alan Cranston in Wisconsin's straw ballot and the strong surge of Glenn in the polls, Mondale and his campaign did not panic.
What Mondale Must Do Before Thanksgiving, 1983: In all current polls, the results of the presidential matchups are almost totally determined by what people think of President Reagan. The voters who like and approve of the president support his reelection, and those who do neither say they will vote for Mondale or Glenn. The Democratic candidates are, to most voters, only fuzzy remaindermen. They are undefined. Voters insist on knowing what kind of a man is asking for their vote for president and where he intends to lead the nation. What sacrifices does the potential president ask of his fellow Americans? What interests or constituencies is he willing to offend? By answering such questions, a presidential candidate defines himself. Every presidential candidate is eventually defined in the voters' mind, one way or another. The candidate who does not effectively define himself will inevitably be defined by his opponents. Fritz Mondale has until Thanksgiving to define himself publicly.