Campaign '84 is heating up fast. John Glenn, currently No. 2 in the Democratic race for president, has stepped up his attacks on Walter Mondale in a high-risk strategy to seize the lead.
Former Vice-President Mondale, the Democratic front-runner, is swinging back at Mr. Glenn and his record in the Senate.
The clash has quickly escalated during the past two weeks, and it has brought to the surface a number of sensitive political points involving both men.
Senator Glenn has more to gain in the current exchange. But his tactics also carry long-term risks for him with leaders of the party. Some analysts suggest that Glenn, by highlighting issues like ''special interests'' and the record of the Carter White House, could cut himself off from the Democratic hierarchy.
The kernel of Glenn's attacks on Mondale go like this:
* Mondale has become the servant of the ''special interests'' such as labor unions and teacher organizations. These groups have pushed the party to the left and out of the mainstream, Glenn argues. He asks: ''Will we offer a party that can't say 'no' to anyone with a letterhead and a mailing list?''
* Mondale is encumbered with the failed policies of the Carter White House. Those policies, which Mondale helped formulate, brought about ''the highest interest rates and inflation rates in postwar history,'' and ''gave rise to Reaganomics.''
* Mondale is wedded to policies that the American voter has rejected in favor of those of President Reagan. If Mondale leads the Democratic ticket, ''I believe that Democrats will face a defeat in 1984 as disastrous as that of 1980 .''
* Mondale ''mouths the words 'strong defense' but opposes every program designed to provide it. Will we offer a party,'' Glenn asks, ''that is shocked anew every time the Soviet Union reveals its barbaric side?''
This sharp rhetoric had its genesis in New York State, where all seven Democratic contenders spoke at a series of issues forums.
Mondale, when asked how he differed from Glenn, spoke critically of the senator's positions against the SALT II arms treaty and in favor of the B-1 bomber, nerve gas production, and large increases in defense spending.
The war of words has been growing ever since.
In a letter to 1,000 leading Florida Democrats this week, Mondale turned up the volume another notch with some barbed phrases of his own. He said:
''Senator Glenn [has] tried to defend his Senate voting record in support of Reaganomics. ''In doing so, John Glenn cast himself as the Democrat who is anti-Democrat and as the defender of the same man - Ronald Reagan - he claims he wants to remove from power.
''Senator Glenn voted in favor of the Reagan tax bill of 1981 - which was special-interest legislation at its greatest extreme. . . . As Reagan's budget director David Stockman said when the tax bill was passed by the House and Senate, 'The hogs were really feeding.' Wealthy Americans and major corporations got massive tax cuts. . . .''
The Mondale arguments play extremely well with Democratic party activists, such as those attending the forthcoming Florida party convention in Hollywood Oct. 22-23.
Glenn's strategy is to reach over the heads of the party regulars to the man inthe street. The typical voter, including those in early primary states like New Hampshire, Florida, and Georgia, is more conservative, more pro-military, more anti-tax than Democratic activists. If Glenn can reach them, he could derail Mondale's fast-moving campaign.
Both Glenn and Mondale are turning to television as the campaign races ahead. Glenn spent $38,000 to buy five minutes of air time on CBS last Saturday to build support at the grass roots. He is alsoairing a 30-minute special on seven Iowa stations tonight in conjunction with more than 1,200 house parties in that state, where he hopes to recruit thousands of new volunteers. Mondale is negotiating to buy a five-minute slot in December on network TV.