San Francisco — Robert Strauss is generally credited with almost single-handedly pulling the Democratic Party together after the deep divisions it suffered during the 1972 campaign. He is known among his colleagues as a ''healer.''
Strauss has put his immense political talents to work to try to prevent a breakout of disunity at this convention. He told reporters last Sunday that he thinks harmony, for the most part, will prevail.
It's a surprise, he said, that at the beginning of this convention there is ''no big split for rules, no big split over the platform, and the vice-presidential candidate has already been selected and with substantial approval.''
Thus, he said, the only heated unhappiness among delegates was over the choosing of a new Democratic national chairman, which, Strauss conceded, was ''inelegantly done.''
Strauss was vexed over the way Mondale handled the party chairmanship choice: his initial firing of Charles Manatt just as the convention began, followed by the controversial selection of Bert Lance as a successor. Mondale then had to back partly away from the Lance selection to quiet a storm of dissent.
When the dust had cleared, Manatt was left with the procedural responsibilities of the chairmanship. But the crucial political responsibilities for the coming campaign are now under the control of the Mondale campaign, and presumably Lance.
With the choice of Geraldine Ferraro for vice-president, Strauss said, ''they were on a good roll. And then they killed a good story with the flap over the National Committee leadership choice.''
But Strauss insisted that the Manatt-Lance episode would ''only be a two-day story - the public is not interested in it at all.''
Strauss had come to meet with nearly 50 reporters in the Crystal Room of the Fairmont Hotel - a get-together under the auspices of The Christian Science Monitor - with the prime objective of trying to convince the press that it should play down a story that just might put a damper on the convention and on the Mondale candidacy - just as the Minnesotan's prospects were beginning to pick up.
Every reporter realizes that Strauss's job is to put the best face on events relating to the Democratic candidates and the party.
He's been doing it for years.
But one reason so many reporters showed up to hear him is that they know that , more than most politicians, the congenial, witty Texan would provide some very straight talk, too.
Thus, while predicting that Mondale might turn the contest into a very close race by mid-October, he went on to say that the Democrats were the clear underdogs and that Reagan might still score an electoral landslide.
He warned the Democrats against attacking Reagan head on - the man, he says, who is obviously liked by so many people. ''We must attack him sidewise, on the issues.''
Strauss said that to win, the Democrats must (1) have a positive convention; (2) come away with two good candidates, who campaign effectively; and (3) have a voter registration drive that pays off.
He thinks there are a lot of people ready to vote against Reagan if the Democrats make the proper appeal.
''Reagan and his people have offended a lot of groups in this country,'' he said. ''A lot of people haven't shared in the improved economy. And a lot of people think the world isn't as safe as it should be - that Reagan is a bit trigger-happy.''
''How would Ferraro fare in a debate with Vice-President (George) Bush?'' a reporter asked.
''Ferraro is smart and tough,'' he said. ''Bush is a talented man and a friend of mine. But I think Ferraro would stand up to him. And if she breaks even, she would be a tremendous winner. And in my judgment she would break even with him - or better.''
Strauss said he hoped ''they'' would let Bush debate. He didn't hold out much hope that this would happen.
Reporters filing out after the session seemed impressed with the Strauss performance. They had been beguiled by this veteran of the political wars. But several were saying there was an undercurrent that indicated Strauss was really quite worried over the committee-chairman debacle and what it might do to the Mondale which had finally gotten on the right track.