The battle to win the Southern primaries on March 13 has become a battle of word vs. organization. Walter Mondale, by most accounts, has the best organization.
Gary Hart is counting mostly on words. So is Jesse Jackson.
John Glenn has some organization, but was losing ground in the South even before the New Hampshire primary. And though he ''looks good on paper,'' he tends to ''lose the audience'' in all but small gatherings, says one former supporter here.
It remains to be seen whether Senator Glenn's candidacy, which he offers as being more conservative than Mr. Mondale's, can catch fire at this late date in the very conservative South. There have been some surprises in the campaign; there could be more.
As for Gary Hart's organization in Florida, the state with the most votes in the Super Tuesday primaries March 13, most of it can be seen in the one-room office of a young state legislator here, Michael Abrams.
''If there's an opportunity here (in Florida), I think we should take advantage of it,'' he says, looking up from a desk cluttered with messages of calls to return to Hart supporters, whose numbers surged after the New Hampshire victory.
But Representative Abrams, Senator Hart's Florida chairman, is practically on his own here.
He began the two-week interlude between New Hampshire and Super Tuesday with no paid campaign staff, hardly any donations, and a handful of lined index cards with the names of probable supporters in various parts of the state. The day after Hart's New Hampshire upset, someone called from northern Florida saying she was a Hart campaigner, but he had never heard of the person.
But there was a flood of calls and visits to Abrams from the press.
When Mr. Mondale issued a shrewd televised challenge to Hart to challenge him in all three Southern states - Alabama, Georgia, and Florida - Hart answered in a televised campaign appearance in Tallahassee, Fla.: ''Walter, here I am.''
But Hart is not in the South the way he was in New Hampshire and Iowa, where he organized early and campaigned hard. In the South he is not well organized and has to rely on something intangible - catching the imagination of voters through personal attraction and skillful use of the media.
It is an uncertain effort.
Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young says he doubts Southern voters will be much influenced by what voters did in New Hampshire.
Even if voter enthusiasm suddenly ignites for Hart in Florida, he has delegate candidates committed to him in only 34 of 84 delegate contests March 13 . And Florida's primary is organized by congressional districts on a winner-take-all basis in each district. So he either beats Mondale in a district or gets none of its delegates.
Beating Mondale anywhere in the South will not be easy.
Interviews here, and in Alabama and Georgia, with various political activists indicate Mondale has the strongest organization of any candidate. Organization was not enough for him, however, in New Hampshire.
But Mondale supporter Clyde Pettaway, a political consultant here, thinks the Mondale loss in New Hampshire may actually help the candidate's chances of eventual victory. Mondale's middle-level staff here in Florida appeared to have been ''easing up'' due to overconfidence, he says. The New Hampshire loss will shake them up and get them working harder again.
Mr. Pettaway, who is black, is dismayed that on Mondale's several visits to southern Florida he has not campaigned in the black sections of Miami. Nevertheless, Pettaway hopes to organize enough backing to capture a good chunk of the black vote here, though he concedes that most blacks are likely to vote for Mr. Jackson.
Jackson is dashing across the South in an attempt to keep his campaign alive, and has all along felt the South would give him his best boost. But unless he manages to expand his support beyond a mostly black base in the South, he has little chance of gaining many delegates except where there are pockets of majority black voters.