WASHINGTON — As the last echoes of the first televised presidential debate fade away, the candidates have little time for congratulations or regrets. Presidential campaigns are gripped by the traditional fear and loathing that accompanies the final 60 days before the Iowa caucuses. At headquarters, nerves are tight, fingers pointed and staffs rearranged. Only front-runners give the appearance of confidence and even if staff shake-ups would help, front-runners want no hint of disorganization.
For the chasers, however, no signs of serenity appear. On the contrary, reorganization--particularly at key positions--is the rule, not the exception. This is a phenomenon repeated every four years in presidential campaigns by both parties--as if these last moves before the main event will in some major way sway the voters or give strength to an otherwise weak candidacy. These moves--The Shuffle--usually have little or no impact on the outcome but are made anyway, with the regularity of the swallows returning to Capistrano. Witness now The Shuffle among Republican presidential campaigns.
George Bush : Here the Shuffle is minimal. He's out in front and there's no reason to fix something that, by appearances, ain't broke. But Bush has plenty of problems--behind in Iowa polls, lukewarm support among party faithful and press coverage that could occasionally make a grown man whimper. Yet an already shaky front-runner wants to give no excuse for more stories on how shaky he is. Hence the staff lineup remains the same. His original team--campaign manager Lee Atwater, political director Richard Bond and fund-raiser Robert A. Mosbacher Sr.--is in firm control.
Bob Dole : Major Shuffle here--top guns move over. Enter William E. Brock III, just resigned as secretary of labor. He reorganized the Republican Party when serving as chairman after Watergate and has good Southern connections dating back to his years as a senator from Tennessee. In less than a month, top Dole operatives Donald Devine and David Keene are promoted up and over to the sidelines. Brock loyalists and experienced presidential operatives Bernard Windon and Norman (Skip) Watts take over. Given how disorganized this campaign is, Keene and Devine may be lucky. If and when Dole crashes, they can blame the Brockettes.
Jack Kemp : His Iowa Shuffle has been going on for months. He's already gone through three campaign managers there. From their command post, top ex-Reagan campaign strategists Edward J. Rollins and Charles Black are still trying to find the right team for Iowa. Kemp's best hope is New Hampshire, where Sen. Gordon J. Humphrey and Rep. Robert C. Smith have given him a first class organization. That, coupled with an excellent Washington crew, may save this campaign.
Pierre S. (Pete) du Pont : A do-or-die two-state campaign. In New Hampshire, Du Pont's Shuffle took place in the summer with good results. Fred Maas, an experienced campaigner, moved in and reorganized. With the Union-Leader newspaper endorsement, Du Pont could surprise people in New Hampshire. Problem is his Iowa Shuffle, going nowhere, and it may hurt a good New Hampshire effort.
Marion G. (Pat) Robertson : God only knows. The Shuffle never stops. Worse yet, it's not even a party Shuffle. People are from outside the traditional GOP club and money is from outside believers. While he has more volunteers and funds than anyone, much of the money is being shipped to a consulting group in Arizona and volunteers are bused everywhere. Hard to read this Shuffle. But the clergyman has the potential to do unto the Republicans in 1988 what Eugene J. McCarthy did unto the Democrats in 1968.
Alexander M. Haig Jr. : No Shuffle problem--no organization to Shuffle. For the general, increased speaking fees will be the payoff for this "I really am in control here" campaign. Whatever, he'll get even with Ronald Reagan and George P. Shultz.
We can expect the Shuffle to continue into January. As the campaign struggle grows more titanic, deck chairs will continue to be reorganized and tactics for the final push argued and decided.
Up till now it's all been preliminaries. From here on out the stakes get higher. Every decision matters. Mistakes are unacceptable. And with good reason--for all but a few of these campaigns, the next 60 days will be the last.