Early editions yesterday incorrectly reported the results of the CBS News-New York Times poll. The correct results are a 53-to-35 percent lead for President Reagan over Walter F. Mondale.
A white recreational vehicle carrying AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland hurtled up Rte. 5 through murky fog and drizzle, past a sign that said, "Exit 57, Hometown of President Ronald Reagan."
Kirkland, in an act uncustomary for a chief of the nation's 14-million-member labor federation, had piled into the big van two weeks earlier, along with his wife and four top aides, to work his way westward, union-hall hopping.
His mission: a last-ditch effort to light fires under local leaders and activists and step up their efforts to turn out a strong union vote for the man to whom most of organized labor has tied its fortune and its credibility: Democratic presidential nominee Walter F. Mondale.
"It beats sitting in Washington and stewing," Kirkland said of his RV odyssey, conceding that the trip is as much a tonic for his spirits as to spur others. "It's two different bloody worlds."
Back in the world of national polls and punditry, Kirkland faced the relentless onslaught of evidence that his nemesis, President Reagan, will win a second term and may even capture a substantial share of union labor's rank and file.
But out here in the heartland, even in Reagan's boyhood stomping ground, Kirkland was finding upbeat, cheering union crowds, optimistic reports about rank-and-file support and enthusiastic assurances from local leaders that "it's doable."
At a United Auto Workers local in East Moline, Kirkland bashed Reagan's policies for an appreciative lunchtime audience of union business agents, political operatives, and activists, then turned his attention to Vice President Bush. For him, Kirkland has invented a new category of voter and a line that draws his biggest laughs.
"Republican Upwardly Mobile Professionals -- Rumpies," he intones, a reference to Bush's elaborate praise for his boss and his controversial remarks about Mondale's running mate, Geraldine A. Ferraro. "They have certain distinguishing characteristics with respect to the rump. They kick it when it's down and kiss it when it's up."
Under Kirkland's guidance, the fractious barons of the AFL-CIO's 96 affiliated unions took a bold gamble last fall when, for the first time, they endorsed a presidential candidate before the first primaries and caucuses. Widely credited with saving the nomination for Mondale, labor groups have spent more money than ever in a presidential election cycle -- and, because of the unexpectedly grueling primaries, more than they originally budgeted -- in an all-out effort to defeat an incumbent they consider anathema.
The looming prospect of failure is already producing gallows humor and pre-mortem analysis in labor's upper echelons. "I'm really scared," said Richard Murphy, political director for the Service Employes International Union, contemplating the impact of a second Reagan term on the labor movement. "I mean, we gotta win. But," he shrugged, "I sense a little of that almost-panic among our leaders out there. What Kirkland is doing is certainly not usual."
Even if Mondale loses the election, labor officials will feel they did their part if around 65 percent of the union vote goes to the Democratic ticket. That's the traditional figure required from labor in order to offset the conservative tilt of the rest of the electorate, officials say.
A major Washington Post-ABC poll taken last month, before the first presidential debate, showed that registered voters from union households favored Mondale over Reagan by three points, 46 to 49. But more recent polls indicate a shift of union voters toward Mondale. A New York Times-CBS poll completed on Oct. 17 found that Mondale had picked up 7 percentage points and was leading Reagan 50 to 38 percent in union households.
"If Mondale hadn't won the first debate, we would have been in serious trouble in terms of motivating volunteers," said Phil Sparks of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employes. "I think we're okay now . . . unless Mondale suffers a perceptible decline."
With a mix of Willie Nelson and Mozart for the tape deck of their rented Xplorer 340 RV, Kirkland & Co. took their show on the road Oct. 11. Starting in New England, they hit halls in nine states, in cities such as Detroit and Chicago and small towns such as Sandusky and Kenosha.
During a supper stop, Kirkland thought forward 10 days or so to the receding possibility of a Mondale upset. "God, wouldn't it be sweet if it happened," he said.
But he added after a pause, "If we lose, well, we've built the solidarity of our movement . . . . If we lose, we were doing what the labor movement always does, going after something we didn't have. In this case, a friend in the White House . . . .
"I'll feel badly for Fritz for a while -- I really like him -- but I'll get over it."