When Maine Democratic Chairman Harold Pachios went to lunch recently at the Portland restaurant owned by Tony DiMillo, the two men talked about the Feb. 10 Democratic town caucuses, where DiMillo was one of those who gave President Carter his victory over Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.
"I got to tell you," DiMillo told Pachios, "that for the first time in my life, I'll probably vote Republican in November. I'm worried about this economy but Teddy was just too liberal for me."
That conversation highlights an easily overlooked political truth that is well understood by leaders of the Carter campaign and other Democrats: despite the drubbing Carter has given Kennedy and his other intra-party challenger, Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr., the president may be vulnerable to upset in the general election.
"The paradox," said Peter D. Hart, the pollster for the Kennedy canpaign, "is that every Tuesday seems to buttress his [Carter's] position, but the voters' attitudes are not very good. The structure of his support looks sound on the outside, but inside, the termites have really been at work."
In New Hampshire, for example, where Carter dealt Kennedy a crippling blow, a CBS-New York Times poll of voters found 72 percent disapproval of Carter's handling of the economy.
All these concerns may come to nothing. But they explain why Caddell said, "The real dynamics of this campaign have almost no relationship to the surface events that show Carter moving from triumph to triumph."