Madrid — ''Felipe! Felipe!'' overflowing crowds jammed into sports stadiums, bull rings, or town plazas enthusiastically scream in unison as the superstar walks to the podium under dazzling stage lights.
A little girl, or the classic little old lady, hands him a dozen red roses which he raises triumphantly with one hand and with the other gives the ''V'' for victory salute. The crowds and fans go wild, and chant, ''Pre-si-den-te! Pre-si-den-te!''
Hundreds of white balloons decorated with a red fist holding a red rose float to the ceiling, or sky. Sometimes, hundreds of white doves fly off. The star of the show signals for silence and with characteristic humor pleads, ''Turn off the lights, I forgot the guitar!''
Everyone laughs and the campaign rally begins.
The superstar is Felipe Gonzalez, general-secretary of Spain's Socialist Workers Party (PSOE), and potentially Spain's next prime minister. Affectionately known throughout Spain by friend and foe alike as simply ''Felipe ,'' he perhaps best symbolizes the spirit of new Spain.
Born three years after the civil war, he carries an image of the new post-Franco generation, of youthful earnesty, of modernness tempered with mature moderation. The handsome cherub-faced lawyer from Seville offers change, efficiency, and promises to make things work, even the telephone booths.
Only 10 years ago Felipe Gonzalez was a relatively unknown labor lawyer who used the assumed name of ''Isidoro'' in the then illegal Socialist Workers Party. But he catapulted to fame after becoming general-secretary of the party eight years ago in October 1974, in the now famous convention in Suresness, France, replacing the old guard, still scarred by the exile and the bitterness of the civil war. Isidoro became just plain Felipe.
Under his leadership, the party, in only three years managed to become the major opposition party after the first free elections in 1977, gaining constantly in opinion polls while the ruling center party began to fall apart.
The key to Felipe's success appears to have been his constant push toward moderation for broader appeal. In 1979, he had the term ''Marxist'' dropped from the party definition. Pressed by disgruntled left-wing opposition within the party, he resigned, only to be overwhelmingly reinstated several months later as the unopposed leader of the now non-Marxist party.
But even his youthful image has been subtly adapted to conform to that of a mature statesman as the elections draw near. For the new look, the corduroy trousers, open-necked shirts, sweaters, and leather jackets have been left in the closet.
Now he is always seen with a tie, and almost always in dignified suits. His formerly boyish but trendy mane of thick black hair has been trimmed shorter to accentuate graying temples. He has even gained a little weight. He looks older and more serious - a capable statesman, and father of three young children.
The new electoral poster depicts a close-up of a serious and confident looking man against a background of baby blue skies spotted by a few clouds. He looks off to the horizon, visualizing, perhaps, a new Spain. He's the smart boy next door who always did his homework, now grown up and proposing a fresh vision of change. No slogans or words are on half the posters. ''Vote PSOE for change, '' say the other half.
Moderation, reform, and efficiency are the main topics in his massive rallies , and everyone laps it up.
''Spain is like a car running backwards stuck in reverse,'' Felipe explains in a favorite metaphor in his heavy Andalusian accent. ''We can't shift into first gear suddenly because we would break the gear box.'' Felipe's obvious solution: ''First we have to stop going backwards and then, shift forward gradually until we are finally gliding ahead in fourth.''
Capitalizing on traditional left-wing reputations for honesty, Felipe's repeated message in huge rallies resembles more of a Sunday school lesson on Protestant work ethics than a campaign rally or political platform: Spaniards will have to work harder, comply with regular eight-hour days, no more goofing off or privileges for public officials or multiplying their salaries by moonlighting, no more free rides. . . . Spaniards need to show more solidarity. . . . Everyone must pitch in and help raise the country out of the doldrums, even businessmen need to be more efficient and earn more money. . . . The biggest and most enthusiastic applause comes when Felipe promises measures against coup plotters.
Like other politicians, Felipe Gonzalez is a workaholic who sleeps five to six hours a day. He eats little but has a weakness for Havana cigars that Fidel Castro personally sends him. His wife, Carmen, and closest associates accompany him in his souped-up World Cup Soccer team bus to tour the country. The press corps follows behind in an identical bus connected by radio-telephone, although Felipe frequently travels with the press.
Manuel Fraga of Alianza Popular, however, claims Felipe Gonzalez is wishy-washy and ''a simple repetition of Adolfo Suarez,'' former premier. In a recent rally, Mr. Fraga claimed, ''Mr. Gonzalez only contradicts himself. First he says he wants change, and then, when he is asked to explain this change, he says he doesn't want to change anything.'' Fraga has also inverted the Socialist slogan to mean ''change for the worse.''
Some critics of Felipe Gonzalez suggest off the record that he could turn out to be easily manipulated by the more radical and Rasputin-like Alfonso Guerra, once in power. Most journalistic critics fear privately that Gonzalez may be unable to take tough decisions and may be unable to stand up to the military. This however is not stated openly perhaps out of fear of encouraging the plotting elements of the Army.
Generally speaking, Felipe has a goody-goody image, even among his worst detractors, who fear that more radical elements in the Socialist Party may regain the direction of the party at some future time. The ultra-rightists, of course, consider him equivalent to the hardest pro-Moscow line communist. In the minds of some voters, this goody-two-shoes image may suggest political naivete.