Washington — Fueled by hoopla and hyperbole, ''The Right Stuff'' blasted off in movie theaters across America during the past few days. The question asked here is: Will John Glenn's campaign soar along with it?
Senator Glenn's political team is quietly cooing over the show. There's never been anything quite like it - a movie ''starring'' a presidential candidate in a hero's role just as America nears an election year.
Glenn, or rather, Ed Harris playing John Glenn (and looking a lot like him) is just one of a marvelous montage of daring young aviators in the picture. There's also Alan Shepard Jr. and ''Gordo'' Cooper, Gus Grissom, Walter Schirra, and others - pilots who roared into space between 1961 and 1963 in the nation's Mercury project.
The movie itself is a patriot's delight, the goose-bumpy kind of experience that makes you want to rush out and buy an American flag for the front porch.
Parts of it are just plain ''Wow!''
America's early rocketeers were all heroes. And they were followed by others. The first men to walk in space. The first men to orbit the moon. The first to walk on the moon. The first to fly the space shuttle.
In the movie, there's also a special kind of hero - Chuck Yeager, test pilot extraordinaire.m A pilot with at least as much of the right stuff as anyone. The first to break the sound barrier. He never became an astronaut, but he did as much to push back the ''demons'' of space, as they are called, as anyone riding a Redstone blowtorch into the blue sky.
But it's the political impact of ''Stuff'' that fascinates Washington. Glenn's people figure the movie can hardly hurt as the senator chases after Walter Mondale for the Democratic presidential nomination. Glenn is only No. 2 right now in the polls. But this movie will boost his name recognition - which is critical in early voting - even higher than it already is.
For those of us old enough to remember our emotions as the real John Glenn lifted off the launch pad at Cape Canaveral, it might be well to remember that there are a lot of young voters today who probably remember little of those tense, early days of the space program.
In fact, out of 174 million Americans eligible to vote in next year's election, more than 90 million were just schoolchildren, or were in diapers, or weren't even born when Glenn soared into space. For them, the Mercury program is just something out of a history book. And for them, this movie could bring back the emotions and the excitement of the early 1960s.
From Glenn's perspective, there may be a couple of little problems with the movie. It does make him look like a preachy do-gooder. Even Glenn worries in the movie that he may go too far in deserving his title ''The Clean Marine.'' But for Americans weary of blue movies, vulgarity on TV, and a breakdown of morals, a ''clean marine'' may be welcome. Glenn's campaign team hopes so.
Then there's Glenn's wife, and how she's portrayed. Mrs. Glenn stutters. She was said to be an 80 percent stutterer when Glenn married her - meaning that she stumbled on 80 percent of the words she tried to say.
The movie makes it look as if she can hardly speak. That was true then. Today , she is better. She even makes speeches for her husband. She's shown she has some of ''right stuff'' herself.
All the ''Stuff'' publicity makes other Democratic hopefuls want to weep. The Washington Post, for example, has run thousands upon thousands of words on the movie. Day after day. It never seems to stop.
Others say this isn't fair. Strictly speaking, it isn't. But that's politics. The critics say movies could be made about others. That's probably true.
George McGovern, for example, was a B-24 pilot in Europe during World War II. At age 22, he won the Distinguished Flying Cross. Then there's Ernest Hollings. A combat officer in North Africa and Europe, he won seven combat medals in the war.
But this is the year of ''The Right Stuff.'' And for sheer entertainment, it's superb. It surely gets this reporter's vote for having just ''The Right Touch.''