THIS campaign has already seen among other unexpected developments the revival of George McGovern's political and personal standing. Many of his friends told him, ''Don't run, George. Everyone will laugh at you.'' Against this advice, McGovern became a candidate. Although now sidelined, he has already clearly won the comeback-of-the-year award.
Today McGovern's views carry much weight. And he is almost constantly being asked by someone in the media what he thinks about this or that. Recently the genial, thoughtful former presidential candidate held forth on what he thought about the two principal candidates - mainly Gary Hart, who, after Pennsylvania, is struggling to keep in contention:
Q. Since Gary Hart worked for you as your campaign manager, we assume that you know him very well.
A. (Laughing) Well, I wouldn't assume that.
Q. Do you mean that you don't know him well?
A. He's quite a private person. He doesn't wear opinions or his inner convictions on his sleeve. You have to penetrate pretty hard to get to know the kind of person Gary really is. He tends to protect himself.
When I say, as I have, that either Gary or Fritz Mondale would be an above-average president, I am pretty sure of that. You can't always be positive of these things. I think Gary has the qualities of mind and character to be a good president. And I think Fritz does, too.
I find myself being very evenhanded about these two fellows. I can see strengths and weaknesses in both of them. Their philosophies are largely the same. And their backgrounds are remarkably the same. Both come out of a deeply religious background. Both are out of rather poor families and yet not impoverished families.
Both moved up rather fast politically and, I think it is fair to say in both cases, with the help of someone else. And I think both are very capable campaigners. Gary might have a slight edge in understanding modern media, what television has done to politics.
Q: What specially attractive qualities does Hart have?
A: He's not the sort of person who spills out everything the first time you meet him. He's a person who, I find, raises enough interest about himself that you want to get to know him better. He just doesn't gush at you first time around.
I was impressed with him when I met him as a young lawyer out in Denver. I don't think many people had heard much about him at that stage. And I was struck , first of all, by his quietness and by what I thought was a certain strength and intelligence.
Q: What about his temperament? The two of you went through periods of stress together. How does he deal with periods of tension?
A: I think he handles tension very well. He's quite unflappable.
Q: Does he have a temper?
A: Yes, he has a temper. But he keeps it under control.
Q: How does Hart deal with an individual who has, let's say, done him dirt?
A: I don't think he's a vindictive person. There's no evidence that I've seen that he holds something against anyone.
Q: How about Hart's changing his birth date?
A: I think he handled it rather clumsily, but I don't think it indicates any fundamental flaw in how he would approach serious national and international questions.
Q: Is there anything about Hart that is being misperceived by the public?
A: Well, I think the public sees him as a highly innovative thinker. And my own view is that he is more traditional and less inclined to break new ground than the public imagines.
Q: Yet he is playing that tune of being the candidate of new ideas?
A: Well, Jack Kennedy did that, too. I didn't think that Jack was all that innovative. This idea of newness is a good political slogan. But I don't think it really is a substitute for policy.
Q: Please evaluate the strengths of both candidates.
A: I guess Mondale's greatest strength is the experience he's had. I don't see how you can, as he did, sit for four years in the vice-presidency without learning a lot about foreign-policy management, handling the bureaucracy, dealing with the national press, handling the Congress. He saw how decisions were made and he saw how some mistakes were made. It has to be an invaluable training ground. I also think that Mondale is a very stable, healthy person.
I think I have said all I need to say about Gary.