Mary Harrington was amazed. Only 48 hours after she was elected a delegate to the Massachusetts Democratic Convention, the letters and telephone calls started coming.
For 10 days she was deluged with pleas from presidential hopefuls - Mondale, Hart, Cranston, Glenn. When a campaign aide of Sen. Alan Cranston called to ask for support, Mrs. Harrington expressed an interest in housing issues. The aide didn't know much about housing; but he had someone available who did. Soon, Senator Cranston himself got on the line to chat with her about US housing problems.
Mrs. Harrington - just one of 4,000 delegates - wasn't the only one getting such special attention. Another delegate from Middlesex County reported getting 40 campaign letters and nearly 50 phone calls in little over a week. ''I finally started just answering the phone by saying, 'I'm for Glenn!' and then hanging up,'' she laughed.
Three major points emerged amid all the cheering, color, and rhetoric at the huge convention here this weekend:
* Democrats have sharpened the issues for 1984 to a few key areas: jobs, the arms race, and President Reagan himself.
* Certain candidates, especially Senator Cranston, have gained credibility. Prior to the vote here, the senator rated himself only a ''weak fourth'' among the contenders.
* No one has a ''lock'' on the '84 Democratic nomination. Even the leader here, former Vice-President Walter Mondale, got less than 30 percent of the vote.
How critical was the vote here? It wasn't binding. It was only a straw poll. And the delegates here were mostly activists - the liberal wing of the party. But for the record, the voting turned out this way:
Walter Mondale, 1,013 votes, 29.3 percent.
Alan Cranston, 582 votes, 16.9 percent.
John Glenn, 528 votes, 15.3 percent.
Gary Hart, 362 votes, 10.5 percent.
Ernest Hollings, 17 votes, 0.5 percent.
Reubin Askew, 12 votes, 0.3 percent.
Then there was a category called ''Jobs'' that picked up 884 votes (25.6 percent). Voting for jobs instead of candidates was an AFL-CIO idea meant to boost the jobs issue. A few other votes went to ''no preference.''
The 'Reagan' issue If the vote was widely scattered, the political fire here was carefully and precisely aimed. And the principal target was President Reagan. There was a time when personal, direct attacks on Mr. Reagan were considered politically risky. But 11 million unemployed and issues like the environment have changed that. The attacks here were sharp. The crowd seemed to love it. Samples:
Walter Mondale, after a trip that day to Woburn, Mass., where chemical wastes are a critical problem, accused the White House team of being ''committed, really, to fight on the side of the poisoners.''
Alan Cranston charged: ''Three million Americans are homeless, wandering the country without a place to sleep at night, winding up under bridges or in battered old cars. . . . And down in Washington, we have a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference.''
John Glenn asserted Mr. Reagan spent too much time ''covering up'' misconduct in the Environmental Protection Agency, and too little time ''cleaning up'' toxic wastes.
Gary Hart, complaining about joblessness, said the President ''has that wonderful ability to smile through other people's misery. . . . I don't believe in Reagan elitism. . . . I don't believe Ronald Reagan cares.''
Reubin Askew noted that Mr. Reagan ''looks good on TV and on a horse - but so did General Custer.'' The US wants a president who ''does good,'' not just ''looks good,'' he said. Arms races and freezes
Denouncing Reagan proved popular sport. But it was military policy that stirred the delegates' moral sensibilities.
Many marched around the convention floor waving blue and white posters proclaiming ''Mondale - Freeze'' - a reference to calls for a nuclear arms freeze. Gary Hart, on a cold, rainy Friday night, drew a standing-room-only crowd to a seminar on Reagan's nuclear arms policies. At the convention hall, one of the best crowd pleasers was a denunciation of just about any weapons system - take your pick - the MX missile, B-1 bomber, cruise missiles, MIRVing (multiple warheads), nuclear aircraft carriers, F-18s, M1 tanks.
A lone cry by John Glenn - ''we believe in keeping our military second to none'' - was lost in the blistering attacks on military spending by Mondale, Hart, Askew, Cranston, and Hollings.
It's clear that ''Ground Zero'' in 1984 will be the Pentagon. 'Jobs, jobs, jobs'
The biggest issue, in Reubin Askew's view, is jobs. The White House has waited too long. The unemployment lines will still be lengthy in November 1984, he predicts.
The President's idea of jobs, Gary Hart complained, is hiring people to build a bridal path around Camp David.
But beneath such verbal spears, several themes ran through the strategies of most candidates here:
1. If the US cut military spending (they all seemed certain it could do so safely), the extra funds could go into job training, civilian sector spending, and lower federal deficits.
2. Lower interest rates are urgently needed.
3. Those suffering from the recession must get more help.
4. The US must have a long-term strategy for growth.
The appeals made by all the candidates tended to be emotional, not intellectual. Jobs are seen as a hot vote-getter.
By the time delegates left the hall here, the political positions of the candidates were coming into better focus - even though the first primaries are still 10 months away: Walter Mondale
Still out front. But the race is far from his. He looked pretty good in this Northern, industrial state. But how will he fare in the more conservative West and South? John Glenn
He drew big crowds. Obvious charisma. But party activists at this convention felt closer to Mondale and Cranston. He should do better outside the Northeast. Gary Hart
Probably has more strength than it seemed here. This was a middle-aged crowd; his clout is with younger voters. Alan Cranston
The vote here helped. He's now solidly in the top four. Ernest Hollings
He doesn't officially begin his campaign until April 18. So his showing here was probably inconclusive. Reubin Askew
Still laying the groundwork of his campaign. Made little effort for votes here. His showing was also inconclusive.
Meanwhile, after all those phone calls and letters, Mrs. Harrington finally cast her vote - for Mondale. His speech was ''great,'' she said.