• U.S.

REPUBLICANS: The Bruising Numbers Game

4 minute read

Not in decades have so few delegates counted for so much. Those who are still uncommitted to either President Ford or Ronald Reagan are achieving a once-in-a-lifetime celebrity status as they are fought and fawned over by supporters of both candidates. As last week began, Ford led Reagan by only 1,050 delegates to 977 (needed to nominate: 1,130). With 63 delegates chosen at four state conventions late in the week, Reagan added 46 to his total and Ford 17. The revised standings: Ford 1,067, Reagan 1,023.

As expected, Reagan captured Montana’s 20 delegates, New Mexico’s 21 and Idaho’s four delegates-at-large. Only in Minnesota was he rebuffed, winning only one delegate to Ford’s 17. In the remaining state conventions, Reagan should at least hold his own against the President, leaving Ford with a dangerously thin lead. Next weekend the Californian is expected to win 18 out of 25 delegates in Colorado and nine out of 18 in North Dakota, although the President could pick up two or three more than anticipated. On July 17, the last day of conventions, Reagan will probably win in Utah by 17 to 3, while Ford should take at least 30 of Connecticut’s 35 seats. At that point, the President figures to have 1,116 delegates to 1,072 for Reagan.

Slight Edge. Then the battle for the uncommitted delegates will become even more bruising. Ford is stronger than Reagan among New York’s 16 uncommitted delegates and has a slight edge among Illinois’ 13. Reagan’s operatives, on the other hand, hope to chip away a few members from the overwhelmingly pro-Ford delegations in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Reagan is also confident of winning all of Mississippi’s 30 seats since the delegates have adopted the unit rule (whoever wins a majority, however narrow, gets all 30). Ford is pondering a last-minute trip to Mississippi. “The delegation is probably 2 to 1 for Reagan now,” says G.O.P. National Committeeman Clarke Reed. “But who knows? Hard work could push it either way.”

Ford’s incumbency should be more of an advantage than it has proved to be. He can certainly point with pride to an economy that has made a strong recovery with a sharply reduced rate of inflation. Perhaps because people take prosperity for granted and fail to give credit to the President’s adroit economic management, the issue has not yet clicked for him. Ford’s most potent weapon at this stage is the series of polls showing that he would do somewhat better than Reagan against Jimmy Carter in November. Public Opinion Analyst Daniel Yankelovich reported last week that should Carter stumble, the “swing voters” who generally determine the outcome of presidential elections might well turn to Ford as an “honest and decent” man who has run “a stable and orderly government.”

Current polls show that Carter would defeat both Ford and Reagan decisively. Last week’s New York Times/CBS News survey, for example, gave the Georgian a resounding 2-to-l edge over both Republicans. It also indicated that the G.O.P.’s brutal family fight has already exacted a heavy toll: 30% of Ronald Reagan’s Republican backers say that they would defect to the Democrats if President Ford won the nomination, and 31% of Ford’s backers would do the same if the Californian prevailed. They could well change their minds when the passions of the moment are cooled and they are confronted with a liberal-conservative choice in the election. Ford supporters are already trying to mend fences by suggesting that Reagan should accept the No. 2 spot on the ticket. Reagan’s current response: “No way.” — –

While the President struggled with delegate counts, Betty Ford faced another kind of crisis and responded with her customary charm and grace under unusual pressure. She had been invited to New York to attend a dinner celebrating the new American National Bicentennial Park in Israel. Moments after introducing her, Maurice S. Sage, 59, a Zionist leader and president of the Jewish National Fund of America, slumped over from a heart attack.

Spontaneous Prayer. While Secret Service men on the dais worked to revive him, Mrs. Ford approached the microphone. Pale and shaken, but in full control of herself, she asked the audience to join her in prayer. “I’ll have to say it in my own words.” Then she spoke spontaneously and movingly: “Dear Father in heaven, we ask thy blessing on this magnificent man. We know you can bring us back our leader. You are our strength. You are what life is all about; love, and love of fellow man, is what we all need and depend on.” When she finished the prayer, she was escorted out of the room. Less than an hour later, the stricken leader died.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com