Washington — Like Halley's comet, the young team of Jimmy Carter loyalists flashed across the American skies in the late 1970s, then flew into the deep space of faded memories. Jack Watson, Stuart Eizenstat, Frank Moore, Jody Powell, Hamilton Jordan -- all were newsmakers during those Carter years, their names on nightly TV, their pictures on the Washington Post society pages. Shocked by Mr. Carter's defeat, most of them left public life after 1980 and turned to their own private careers.
Now some of them -- the latest is Hamilton Jordan -- are edging back toward the public arena. Mr. Eizenstat, a lawyer, can be seen at some Democratic functions. Mr. Watson ran, and lost, a race for governor of Georgia. Mr. Powell has become a network commentator.
Mr. Jordan, surprising even his closest friends, has decided to plunge into the race for the United States Senate against the incumbent Republican senator from Georgia, Mack Mattingly.
Jordan, a backroom operator sometimes dubbed a ``blue-denim Machiavelli,'' was the mastermind behind Governor Carter's come-from-nowhere presidential victory in 1976. At the same time, he took some of the blame for Carter's loss in 1980 to Ronald Reagan.
At a breakfast meeting with reporters on Tuesday, Jordan made it clear that politics has never been far from his thoughts, even though he has been struggling with a couple of personal problems in recent years.
First, there was his $67,000 in legal debts -- a troublesome holdover from the Carter days. Jordan was accused, but never charged, with the illegal use of cocaine during a 1978 visit to a New York City discoth`eque.
A federal court appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the accusations, which were found to be groundless. But before it was over, Jordan was in debt with about two years' worth of take-home pay.
Then there was news from his doctors, who told Jordan this fall that he had cancer. Doctors now say he is cured -- his final treatments will be in January.
All of this appears to have sobered Jordan, who at times during his earlier days seemed to cultivate a good-old-boy, wisecracking image. Though he was popular with reporters, he was deemed a ``rube'' by some Washington socialites, when he refused to take part in the usual whirl of receptions, parties, and other festivities.
Jordan and some of the other Georgians -- outsiders in a city of insiders -- concede they came to Washington with ``a chip on our shoulders.'' Washington not only knocked the chip off but ``knocked my shoulder off,'' Jordan says now.
That is the past, however. Jordan's entry into the Georgia race for the US Senate could enliven a contest that was considered a sure win for the Republicans and put more pressure on the slender GOP majority in the Senate. Senator Mattingly is one of the ``class of 1980'' swept into office with President Reagan. He won with only 51 percent of the votes and could be vulnerable.
Jordan, taking his cue from recent elections, talks highly of Gov. Charles Robb of Virginia, Gov. Bruce Babbitt of Arizona, and other Democrats who are trying to lead their party back to the center. Thus Jordan says that if elected, he would support the MX missile, aid to the ``contra'' rebels in Nicaragua, research for the Strategic Defense Initiative, and other Reaganesque policies.
Jordan sees the key to Democratic victory as the economic area. Over 50 percent of the farm loans today in Georgia, for example, have gone bad. Textile mills are closing. Small towns are on the verge of collapse.
``I will focus on questions that deal with Georgia's economic development,'' he says. There will be special emphasis on trade relations with Japan and other countries, on troubled industries, and on retraining programs for displaced workers.
As for US politics, Democrats have faced 20 tough years, he says. The US has moved from an era when government was the answer to an era when government was the problem. ``Neither of those is right,'' he says.
Carter's problem, Jordan says, was he was trying to steer the party, and the country, toward a middle road. But he was fought by party liberals who couldn't see what was ahead. The result is conservative, Reagan policies that have gone far beyond what Carter wanted.
Jordan's own immediate problems involve money. He needs to keep paying down his attorney bills (he's whittled them down to about $40,000 so far). And he needs to raise about $3 million to run a credible campaign in the Democratic primary, and against Senator Mattingly.