Even as the votes in the midterm election still were being counted, political pundits were watching early jockeying for position for the 1984 presidential sweepstakes, particularly among Democrats.
The size of the spread in the Senate election in Massachusetts for Edward M. Kennedy; the result of the Senate bid by California Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr.; the gubernatorial run of Adlai E. Stevenson III in Illinois; and the political lure of former Vice-President Walter F. Mondale and Ohio Sen. John Glenn (neither up for election) will all be assessed in terms of Oval Office potential.
Meanwhile, so-called ''dark horses'' will also be trying to nudge into the pack, gain voter recognition, and evaluate presidential primary runs which start within 15 months.
One of these dark horses, California Sen. Alan Cranston, has been quietly testing the political waters in New Hampshire, Iowa, and elsewhere. In an interview with this reporter he took a step closer to formal announcement, saying: ''I would be astounded if I did not get into the race.''
Senator Cranston's obstacles to the nomination are formidable. He hasn't the broad exposure or public name recognition of Messrs. Kennedy, Mondale, and Glenn. As of now, his campaign organization is not formulated. He is a bona fide liberal at a time that many feel this is a liability for a candidate of either party. And he will be 70-years-old by the next presidential election.
So why would Mr. Cranston seek the presidency - particularly at this relatively late stage of his career? Simply because he believes the race is wide open. Kennedy and Mondale are old hat, he says. ''At the same time, I feel that I can activate some of the groups that are particularly important in the way that the Democratic nomination process works,'' Cranston explains. ''Like environmentalists, peace people, teachers, labor, small business, and others.''
Cranston is a highly respected three-term Senator. He is the Democratic whip (assistant leader) and has broad experience in fiscal matters and foreign affairs.
In response to questions from Monitor editors, he made these points:
* On arms control and getting a SALT agreement: ''I think we need to do something analagous to what Jimmy Carter did at Camp David (with Arab and Jewish heads of state), which was to bring top leaders together.
''The leadership of America and the leadership of the Soviet Union have not had a substantive conversation for seven years. . . . I would have the president of the United States and the leader of the Soviet Union, foreign ministers, defense ministers, joint chiefs of staff, some arms control experts, ambassadors meet. We've never done anything like that.
''I have the impression that the Russians . . . would respond to that kind of an approach. Our defense ministers should meet regularly and trade thoughts. It would be healthy for them to know each other. They never meet now.''
Cranston says a summit meeting would have to come from the initiative of President Reagan and be held at a neutral site.
* On jobs and the economy: ''The best way to balance the budget is to get some resources we can use to make the economy hum. . . . The deficit now being $ 150 billion, roughly, if we can find a way to slowly reduce the unemployment from 10 percent down to 5 percent we can resolve the deficit.
''For each 1 million people that you put back to work, which is 1 percent, roughly, of unemployment, you reduce the deficit by $30 billion because people are working and paying taxes.''
Among other things the 1984 Democratic hopeful would do to pump up the economy and create jobs: reemphasize job training and support for education (particularly at the college level); modify Federal Reserve policies ''to permit a slow, steady, predictable growth of the money supply''; restrict the authorization of corporate credit takeovers while interest rates are high; and give the President greater control of the Federal Reserve Board.
Cranston would also push for ''more cooperation and less confrontation between government, management, and labor.''
* On the 1984 presidential race: Cranston predicts that President Reagan will not seek reelection. And he doesn't think Vice-President George Bush will be the GOP nominee. ''I don't think he's mainstream conservative enough,'' he says. The Californian names ''(Bob) Dole, (Howard) Baker, (Jack) Kemp, maybe Gov. (James) Thompson of Illinois'' as possible Republican standard-bearers in 1984.