Manchester, N.H. — There's a story that tells a lot about why John Glenn's campaign remains stuck on the launching pad in the New Hampshire primary. It's a story taken from the 1976 campaign.
Sen. Birch Bayh of Indiana, campaigning here for the presidency that year, attended a small reception in a private home. After the senator left, a reporter lingered behind to ask one woman whether she was now going to vote for Mr. Bayh.
''Oh, I wouldn't know,'' she is supposed to have said. ''This is only the third time I have met him.''
That's politics, New Hampshire-style. It's old-fashioned, face-to-face campaigning. Folks here want you to knock on their doors and come in to talk things over. It's the candidate who gets here early (like Jimmy Carter), and really gets to know the people in the hamlets and suburbs of this state, who can pull a surprising upset.
It's also important to get here early to line up support with the local leadership across the state. There is no big organization or machine that can deliver New Hampshire to a candidate. You have to be organized right down to the grass roots. TV ads won't do it. Newspaper endorsements won't do it, either. You have to work for it.
And that brings us to John Glenn.
This is Senator Glenn's kind of state. These are his kind of Democrats - not too liberal, strong on defense, patriotic, antitax, not very many union members already committed to Walter Mondale. Yet Mr. Glenn is behind here, when just about every political indicator says he should be ahead. Glenn's campaign workers know they have made mistakes. And now they're finally rushing to correct them.
What went wrong? Plenty. Glenn failed to organize. He failed to ''press the flesh,'' New Hampshire-style. He failed to line up local supporters. He failed to take advantage of opportunities.
Dan Calegari, local Manchester organizer for Gary Hart's campaign, shakes his head in disbelief when he talks about the Glenn campaign here. It seems to lack ''astuteness,'' he says. Mr. Calegari gives this example:
A few weeks ago, the mayor's office in Manchester staged a Christmas luncheon for about 1,500 senior citizens. It was a perfect opportunity for a little politicking with all those voters in one spot, especially for a candidate like Glenn, who is making his appeal to middle-of-the-roaders. Calegari dispatched Hart volunteers to the luncheon, and they worked it hard, passing out leaflets and campaign buttons and shaking hands. But not a Glenn worker was in sight, even though about 80 ''Buckeye'' volunteers for Glenn were here that week from Ohio.
Another example. If you walk into the Mondale headquarters here, state field director Chuck Campion will show you a book filled with 2,078 names from 177 cities and towns across New Hampshire. These are the members of Mr. Mondale's New Hampshire Steering Committee, and they represent the kind of organizing effort needed here. It's an impressive list in a state with only 135,000 Democratic voters. And Glenn has nothing like it.
A final example. Mondale's team got here early (Mr. Campion has been here for more than a year), and got to work. Mondale has 30 paid staff members, plus 43 others who are paid a per diem allowance while working on the campaign. Glenn on Jan. 1 had only eight paid workers and his effort, according to local political hands, was almost invisible.
The question now is: Can Glenn move fast enough to make up lost ground?
His people say he can. ''We have no where to go but up,'' says Gerard Morris, who has been newly installed as press secretary here. Here's the plan:
Staff improvements. Paul Schone, considered an expert in 11th-hour campaign strategy, has taken over as state director. The staff has already been increased to 25 full-time employees, and will grow to 38 within the next few days. Field offices, numbering only three on Jan. 1, have already been pushed to 11. Volunteers are rushing to contact 35,000 households, either by telephone or door-to-door canvass. At the national level Glenn also attempted to strenghten his top team by appointing Gerald T. Vento, his Iowa coordinator, as his new campaign manager. Former campaign manager William R. White, who has been Glenn's closest adviser, will concentrate on funding raising.
Strategy. The campaign is focusing on the basics. Workers in coming weeks will identify potential Glenn voters, then concentrate on a get-out-the-vote effort on primary day, Feb. 28.
The candidate. Glenn has already spent six days this month in New Hampshire. He'll be back five more times in the next two weeks. The emphasis will be on face-to-face voter contact.
Media. Glenn will have to rely in large part on a strong media campaign, especially TV, to overcome Mondale's wide lead. The question is: Will Glenn eventually be forced to rely on negative, anti-Mondale TV ads to blunt Mondale's lead? Mondale aides are clearly worried about the possibility. Glenn aides say that so far, no decision has been made to use such ads - although it could happen.
Even with all of this, it looks like an uphill struggle for Glenn. In a state that he needs to win, he may have to settle for a strong second-place finish - at best.