DEMOCRATIC Party voters in 1984 seem to want their candidates to win the nomination the old-fashioned way - by earning it, to paraphrase the TV ad. Whoever becomes the July convention's nominee - and increasingly it appears likely to be Walter Mondale - certainly will have earned it, as evidenced by the hard-fought nature of this week's primaries.
The even split in these primary results, with Gary Hart narrowly winning the two larger contests, suggests a repeat of the Democratic primary pattern in 1980 . Then, primary results one week seemed to put the nomination in the grasp of Jimmy Carter, only to have Ted Kennedy surge the following week. Yet in hindsight, Carter's ultimate grasp on renomination was never really in doubt. Ultimately it may be concluded that once Mondale began rebounding from Hart's early success, the 1984 outcome was never in doubt, either. Because of the scope of his big win in Maryland and the narrowness of his defeats in Ohio and Indiana , Mondale actually picked up more delegates Tuesday than Hart did.
A major factor in Hart's two wins was his continued strength among independent voters who took part in the Democratic primary. He did less well in North Carolina and Maryland, where independents cannot vote in primaries. In all states Mondale scored higher with registered Democrats.
Much remains to be tested in the remaining primaries, which include New Jersey and California. The three candidates will continue to try to appeal to the three 1984 wings of the party - old-time establishment interests, independent new-style Democrats, and newly assertive minorities. The race thus far is revealing valuable data to both parties about the 1984 electorate, information that is not emerging from the uncontested GOP primaries.
Much remains to be learned at the Democrats' July convention. Both Jesse Jackson and Hart can continue their effort to influence the basic cast of the Democratic platform and of the fall campaign. New rules that leave delegates technically unbound on the first ballot have yet to be tried. Uncommitted delegates and at-large party professionals can participate for the first time. Beyond this, the delegates can write new rules on the spot - tempting Hart and Jackson to continue their race straight through to San Francisco.