Money in the bank. It tells a lot these days about the 1984 Democratic race for the White House. Cash is pouring into the coffers of Walter Mondale, the front-runner in the campaign. The same is true for John Glenn. But Gary Hart is suddenly awash in debt. Alan Cranston is, too. And Reubin Askew, who had built up a sizable cash reserve last spring, has watched his bank account sink to under $100,000 in October.
A few scenes from the campaign trail tell the story:
* When Mr. Mondale flies, he flies first class. He can afford it. Wide, comfortable seats. Good food. Aides also go first cabin. During a recent trip to Maine, Mondale chartered his own plane, and the people aboard snacked on lobster sandwiches and expensive liquor.
* When Senator Hart travels, he usually goes alone. It's too expensive to bring aides along. Staff members who need to travel seek out cheap fares on bargain carriers. One aide says that, on the road, she survives on ''popcorn and M&Ms.''
* George McGovern loaned his own campaign $30,000 to get it started. When he traveled to Iowa recently, he saved on hotel bills by staying at the home of the parents of his press secretary. An aide jokes: ''Once in awhile, I even get paid.''
This rich-boy, poor-boy split in the election could be more important in 1984 than ever before because of changed campaign rules.
Primaries and caucuses are ''front loaded'' next spring: They come in extremely fast succession so that every candidate must have most of his campaign money on hand before the first vote.
On March 13, just one week after the New Hampshire primary, come primaries in Massachusetts, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Rhode Island. On the same day there are caucuses in Oklahoma, Washington State, Hawaii, and Nevada.
The next day, there are caucuses in Delaware and Alaska, and within four days after that are seven more state caucuses and a primary.
No one with an empty campaign treasury can compete effectively. So the advantage will go quickly to anyone with ready cash.
The latest finance reports to the Federal Election Commission indicate who those candidates will - and won't - be.
Most successful at fund raising in the last three months have been Senator Glenn ($1.6 million), Mr. Mondale ($1.3 million), and Senator Cranston ($1.6 million). However, Cranston's total was boosted by loans, and his campaign currently has only $114,000 in the bank and has debts of $812,000.
Meanwhile, the Hart campaign has sunk more than $700,000 into debt and has only $6,165 in the bank. Mr. Askew's cash in hand has fallen from $433,000 on July 1 to just $98,000 on Oct. 1. Sen. Ernest Hollings now owes $228,868, but has only $56,736 in the bank. And Mr. McGovern had raised a mere $14,000 from contributors by Oct. 1.
The spread is even wider than it looks at the present time. Tim Finchem, national finance director for the Mondale campaign, says very little effort has been exerted in recent months to raise money. Most of the staff's effort has gone into straw polls, organizing, and endorsements like the AFL-CIO.
That will change in the weeks ahead. Mr. Finchem says he is confident that by Jan. 1 Mondale will have $5 million, free and clear, to spend on TV ads and other primary and caucus expenditures through March 13. The goal is to give Mondale a 3-to-2 edge in spending over Glenn during that critical period - a goal that even Glenn aides concede Mondale will probably reach.
If the news is grim for most of the dark-horse candidates like Hart and Cranston, they can at least look forward to one bit of help next year: federal matching funds.
Every campaign but McGovern's has qualified for the funds (McGovern's aides expect him to qualify soon). Some campaigns, including Hart's and Cranston's, have already taken out bank loans that use the federal funds as collateral. But when the federal money finally comes in, it will be a critical boost for a number of candidates and will probably help them hang on, at least through the first two weeks of March.
The amount of federal money each candidate gets depends upon how much he has raised and how he has raised it. (Only certain funds are matched.)
Cranston, for instance, has raised more than $3.2 million so far this year, but only about $1.2 million of that will be matched by federal money.
Hart has qualified for about $590,000 in federal money so far - which won't even offset his debts at this time. His picture is painted so dark in some quarters that in a recent Monitor interview, Hart said: ''If I even show up in Iowa next February, it will be something of a moral victory.''
All the campaigns, including Hart's, are forming plans to shore up their finances.
''We intend to raise a lot of money in the next two months,'' says a Hart financial officer. The goal: to pay off all of the current debts by Jan. 1.
A major effort will come on Nov. 15, when Hart will have a nationwide series of house parties to raise money and recruit grass-roots workers. At least one such party will be held in every congressional district.
The Hart camp is also developing other ideas. Among them: concerts by musician Jimmy Buffet, New York theater parties, and celebrity parties such as one attended in Denver by ''Dynasty'' star John Forsythe. Other campaigns have similar plans for the coming months. Comparing the campaign war chests of the Democratic hopefuls
Money raised so far this year (Millions of dollars)
Total Candidate IQ IIQ IIIQ YTD Cash on hand Debtsm Mondale 2.39 3.29 1.26 6.94 $428,800 $397,493 Glenn 1.04 1.50 1.60 4.14 $418,864 $348,220 Cranston 0.44 1.16 1.62 3.22 $114,234 $812,056 Hollings 0.25 0.45 0.44 1.14 $56,736 $228,868 Askew 0.80 0.19 0.10 1.09 $64,463 $20,553 Hart 0.47 0.39 0.23 1.08 $6,165 $714,104 McGovern -- -- 0.04 0.04 $37,081 $30,000 * Totals may not add up due to rounding Source: Federal Election Commission and a Monitor survey