Manchester, N.H. — The Democratic presidential race now has two front-runners. Gary Hart's stunning upset in New Hampshire catapults him into first place in enthusiasm and momentum as the campaign rushes toward ''Super Tuesday'' voting on March 13 in nine states.
But don't count Walter Mondale out yet. He still has a lot going for him - more money, bigger staff, and extensive organization in all the most important states - some of which Gary Hart's team has barely thought about yet.
The Hart victory, however, has changed the character of this race. It has ensured that Mr. Mondale, even if he eventually wins, will have a battle on his hands right through some of the big primaries in Illinois, Pennsylvania, and New York.
Mr. Mondale had hoped to wipe out his Democratic foes and wrap up the party nomination by the end of March. It was a crucial goal. If he had succeeded, Mondale would have had several months to consolidate the party, build bridges to his defeated opponents, and plan strategy against President Reagan.
''Time is an important commodity'' in politics, says Charles Black, a Reagan-Bush senior consultant, who was in New Hampshire watching the Democratic contest. Mondale has now lost a great deal of time, if not eventually the nomination itself.
All sides are still digesting the magnitude of Mondale's loss. Two weeks before the primary, Senator Hart was getting only 9 percent support here in his own private opinion polls. Mondale was close to 40 percent.
After the Iowa caucuses, the tide began to shift. Even though Mondale whipped Hart in Iowa by 3 to 1, Hart's second-place finish made him look like a viable alternative.
Hart's strength in New Hampshire, the polls showed, rose to about 23 percent last Friday, 24 percent on Saturday, 25 percent on Sunday, 30 percent on Monday.
Meanwhile, Mondale slumped from about 40 percent to 30 percent in the two weeks before the voting.
The Hart camp, which included hundreds of volunteers here, was electrified. Some of his senior staff, however, remained skeptical. Dotty Lynch, Hart's pollster, told the Monitor just before the polls closed that despite the trend, she expected Hart to lose by at least five points.
The actual vote (Hart 40 percent, Mondale 28) is said to be the largest victory margin ever recorded in a contested Democratic presidential primary here.
The big question now is: Can Hart capitalize on his victory? There are some who doubt that he can. The Democratic Party rules (written by allies of Mondale, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, and major labor unions) are stacked this year against any dark-horse candidate like Hart running away with the nomination.
The new rules ''front load'' the process - putting more than half the state caucuses and primaries in a one-month period right at the start. Only well-known , well-organized candidates like Mondale could afford to compete in every contest.
Hart now must race the calendar.
There are 25 states that vote in the next three weeks. Mondale's campaign is running hard in all of them. Hart - short of money and manpower - had to put all his efforts into Iowa and New Hampshire. He is gaining speed. He had more volunteers here on primary day than he could use. Some $250,000 in contributions poured in on Feb. 28 alone. But so little time remains, he will have to pick his targets in early March, then hope to sweep the later primaries in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and California, to head off aMondale victory.
With only limited resources, Hart aides say, the senator will be forced to pick his targets carefully on Super Tuesday. Massachusetts and Rhode Island are expected to figure in his plans. Also, at least one of the big Southern states - Florida, Georgia, or Alabama.
A large part of Hart's victory here came from last-minute vote-switching. One little story illustrates that point.
A Hart volunteer, who was driving voters to the polls, picked up three residents of Manchester. All three told him that on Monday they were each planning to vote for Mondale. But overnight, they switched to Hart. That sort of thing was going on all over New Hampshire.
How did Hart bring it off? Dozens of election specialists, using computers, key precinct data, and exit polling, tried to figure it out. Based on interviews with hundreds of New Hampshire voters, here is what they learned:
New ideas vs. experience. Hart pushed the concept of ''new leadership'' and fresh ideas for the future. Mondale ran on his experience. ABC-TV exit polls at 60 locations across the state found that voters, by more than a 2-to-1 margin, said the need for change outweighed the need for experience. Hart's message hit pay dirt.
Impact of big labor. In Iowa, labor helped Mondale. Here it may have hurt. CBS exit polls found that half the voters felt Mondale was ''too close'' to labor. That may be one reason independent voters favored Hart over Mondale by 2 -to-1. The final blow for Mondale: Even labor union members voted for Hart 37 to 32.
The war-peace issue. One-fifth of the voters said the most important job for the next president was to keep America out of war. Hart got nearly half of these voters.
Vote-switching. Nearly half the voters didn't decide whom to support until the final week. Hart got about 55 percent of those late choosers. An internal study by the Hart team found that in the final two weeks, Hart picked up 83 percent of the people who had been planning to support Alan Cranston. He also pulled away 60 percent of Ernest Hollings's supporters, 50 percent of George McGovern's, 35 percent of Jesse Jackson's, 19 percent of John Glenn's, and 14 percent of Mondale's. It was a spectacular demonstration of momentum at work.
Organization. Hart's team was hard working, well organized, and never let itself get discouraged. An estimated 1,500 volunteers helped get out the vote.
All of this is making it harder and harder for the other candidates to stay in the race. Senator Cranston (who got 2 percent of the vote) promptly announced he was quitting the campaign.
John Glenn (12 percent) was upbeat, despite his third-place finish. He (unlike Hart) is ready to compete on Super Tuesday, and says he has a better chance now that Mondale has been beaten once.
Reubin Askew (1 percent) says he will fight on. Florida, his home state, votes on Super Tuesday. Ernest Hollings (4 percent) also hopes his native South will provide a boost. Jesse Jackson (5 percent) looks for help from the large black vote in Alabama and Georgia. And George McGovern (5 percent) says Massachusetts, which he carried in 1972, could help him.