Gov. Hugh L. Carey - an improbably vision in his expensive pin-striped suit and Gucci-style loafers standing high atop a tractor - bets back and forth demanding questions for an hour with Long Island farmers in overalls.

The eyes of reporters and aides glaze over as the clustering handful of Long Islands hammer away for a commitment from Carey that Jamesport will not be the site for any kind of power plant. Then, Carey says, with an edge of disdain, that some kind of power is necessary "unless you want to go back to candles."

Impatiently: "In my life in politics I have not taken the easy road." In mock stentorian tones he bellows, "I could take the easy road today and say, Gentlemen! You heard it from ME. NOTHING at Jamesport!' Well, I'm not going to do that. Because that's what you LIKE to hear. I can only tell you what you HAVE to hear. What you HAVE to hear . . ."

The Carey is off - telling them only that their point of review would be heard by energy planning boards before decisions would be made.

It is not the politically safe, sugar-coated answer, but then neither is Carey the politically safe, sugar-coated politican. If anything, that performance - on the traitor - pure, blunt, non-expedient Carey - is the one constant in a man who possesses all the contradictions of a complex personality.

It was once said that people took one look at Carey, the Brooklyn Irishman, and expected Pat O'Brien - but instead got Charles de Gaulle. Actually, they got both.

The paradoxes in Hugh L. Carey point up why the New York governor, more than any other candidate this year, is running against himself.

Although tagged an "aloof loner," no one is more charming than Carey when he's upbeat. He can be cold. And sensitive. A brooder. Or leading the pack BSing or doting the cancan or singing the night away.

Even New York politicians who don't like Carey concede that he saved New York City from bankruptcy and is now - through tax cuts that are encouraging businesses to return to New York - on his way to helping save the state. But for months he was trailing badly in the polls against Perry Duryes, 56, a Long Island lobster wholesaler and minority leader in the state assembly.

Carey was perceived as a good governor but a lousy politician - a man who closeted himself in Albany for 3 1/2 years.But now, partly due to a final burst of nonstop, statewide appearance, the governor is turning it into a neck-and-neck race.

Gossip columnists portray Carey, 59, as a jet-set habitue of Manhattan's night-spots, squiring Ford Motor Co. heiress Anne Ford Uzielli, 35. But widower Carey also will sit up for hours at night with a puzzled Catholic son - one of his 12 children - to explain why he champions Medicaid abortions. (Although it's hardly a vote-getting stand, Carey nonetheless feels that poor women should have the same right of choice as the rich).

He is brash and smart. A Democrat who went against all advice and refused to knock Rocky - his record, yes, but not the name. And wound up getting Rocky's blessing.

Praised 3 1/2 years ago for picking a woman, Maryann Krupsak, as lieutenant governor, Carey was at swords point with her this year. In June, an hour after Carey announced he would run for reelection , Krupsak announced that she would be running against - not with - Carey. "You could say," he remarked drily, "that we were not ideally suited."

Carey never appears to listen to anyone, tromping verbally on other people's sentences, and yet he does listen, filing away a computor memory bank to dredge fourth - hours, months or years later - some fact long-forgotten by the person who offered it.

Some expected Carey would be a Brooklyn "back-room guy," as a former New York state senator said. "But his intellectual style is remote. It a legislator said, 'I've got to have this for my district,' he'd say, 'I can't help you.' He was never guided by traditional political practices - so instead of having all these legislative 'ambassadors' spreading the good word in the district, Carey got naysayers."

Carey shrugs. "I didn't play the Albany game. I found the Albany game was a trade post. 'You tade me a job here and I trade you a job there.' Everybody was brokering . . . and who paid for it? The people. The Albany game is what's breaking all of us."

The flip sides of Carey's personality are expressed by brother Ed: "Hughie likes to be liked. He can't understand what he's doing that turns people off, particularly in view of his record. He's mystified - and somewhat hurt." Yet his brother also quickly admits that the governor seldom suffer folls - or anyone else for that matter - even at the cost of not being liked. "Either he likes you or he doesn't, and it doesn't take much to turn him off."

His approach to perry Duryea varies in tone. Asked in one debate what he admired most about his opponent, Carey cracked, "I respect the fact Mr. Duryea admits he was once indicted" (failing to add that the charge, an election-law misdemeanor, was dismissed).

At another time, he is rambling, with only the faintest of a twinkle in a poker face, about how he believes in reincarnation.

"I was a racehorse in 1889. Won 'Horse of the Year. Then the next time I became an insect. As an insect I made my home on Perry Duryea's head. But it was so dull and uninteresting being on Perry Duryea's head . . ." Campaign Roller Coaster

Carey can switch from the glib tease to a demanding churl and his blue-green eyes can pierce and his thick eyebrows pull together and he can say bitingly, as an aide explains a change in the day's schedule: "We have this game, 'What Comes Next,' it called."

Another aide says, "Look, he can be a demanding son-of-a bitch. But I've spent most of my adult life working from dumb 48ph-. Now I'm working for a smart 38Pt-. The reason I keep on working 18 hours a day is that he is probably the best governor in the U.S. So I can take it when Hugh L. Carey gets impossible."

The impossible Hugh L. Carey is well hidden these days, as he rides the manic high of a campaign roller coaster. Impatient one minute about his crowded schedule, Carey further knocks it all to hell as he lingers to kibitz on Manhattan's sidewalks with businessmen.

As a woman with a slightly Irish look to her passes by and says, "Keep up the good work, guv'nor," Carey shouts back, "Slainte gael" ("Good health to the Irish.") Then, out of the corner of his mouth, "She's better be Irish."

He piles into a helicopter and, high above the skyscrapers, Carey carries on non-stop - about his life and the obvious loves in it - his late wife, Helen; Anne Ford Uzielli and his kids. He gives an impromptu and knowledgeable lecture on New York's agriculture - from potatoes to wines. He rattles off facts and figures on New York's economy and taxes. He turns his past into an adventure - how he was a World War II hero . . . how his mother worked for Nellie Bly . . . How he decided on being governor: "As a kid I noticed three types who had big cars - bottleggers, cardinals and Al Smith." After some reflection. Carey decided the best route to the big Packard was to follow Gov. Al Smith.

Carey, the upwardly mobile Irish-man, remembers not only the women he used to date, but their fathers and what they did for a living. In high school, he dated "a lovely girl; her father was a judge. That's about as high as you can get." Another's father was a doctor. And of his wife, Helen: "Her father was head of the coffee and sugar exchange in New York. She lived a lovely life, went to good schools, summer camps. We'd bump into friends who were well-to-do and she would say, 'Just think, I could be his wife, riding in that Packard, instead of hanging out with you.'"

And now it's Anne Ford and her father, Henry Ford II. Carey likes Ford - two years older he is - a lot. At one stop, Carey tells his audience he banged his head when he jumped off the tractor. "It was a Ford - if I have to get hit with anything I'd just as soon it was a Ford." Dealing With Death

The curbstone Freuds who psyclolalnyze Carey in print make much of the brooding, dark Irish side of him that has lived too much with death.

"That's an occluded view," says Carey. "I'm introspective. When they think I'm brooding, I'm thinking." His vast knowledge of books and authors stems from reading bouts. "All those times I'm being 'aloof' and 'alone,'" he says with a grin.

Still, Carey has lived often with death - a brother killed in an airplane crash, two eldest children killed in a car, his wife died of cancer four years ago, a beloved first grandchild died in a crib. "Carey was a walking time bomb after that, the death of that baby," recalls an acquaintance."You were afraid to touch him, to say anything. You couldn't say you were sorry. He wouldn't take it from anybody. He was in a rage."

Many feel that Carey's own experiences with dying led him to oppose the death penalty - an unpopular position in this election, with Duryea trying to exploit his death-penalty stance. Not content to just oppose a death penalty bill, Carey has said he would commute anyone if it were passes. A collegue calls that a politically "stupid" move. Carey - who takes pains to mention he has stiffended the penalties and legal system for tough crimes - says, "Now, in this day and age when people want credibility hoad to tell people that the govbility how can you have toocan you have too much candor? I had to tell people that the governor had such constitutional powers."

Carey is at his softest, most sensitive in dealing with people in grief. There was the time seven Air National Guardsmen were killed in a helicopter crash in the Adirondacks. Carey was extemely annoyed that the press was present when he talked to the families. He moved in and one-on-one held their hands and spoke in a low voice about the mysteries of death. In five minutes, he had calmed a semi-hysterical, 19-year-old pregnant widow, and brought a hardened political reporter to tears.

As the helicopter circles the glistening waters of upstate New York, moving in to land, the noise comes close to drowning out Carey.

His quick, sure, sentences come slower now. "We all have to deal with death. St. Augustine said, "For those who live in the Lord, life does not end, it merely changes.'" The plause is a long one. "When I get up against it, I get my kids and anyone I know to help me out . . ." Wedding Plan?

Would the family object to Carey remarrying? "No," says 16-year-old Paul. "Anne Ford is a wonderful person. "It is a given that if he marries it will be Anne Ford Uzielli, and a post-election wedding seems a sure bet Carey talks of her as if he's a smitten 18-year-old; brings her name up often in conversation.

"People say, 'Why do you take out Anne Ford Uzielli?' he volunteers, "One, she's very good looking. She's also highly intelligent. And she's a good mother. And we talk about children. That cosmic subject. That 'beautiful people' image! She's not. She goes to school. Studies foreign policy. Are we going to get married? Why ruin a good thing!"

That answer is too flip, even for Cary. "I don't dare to bring the question up," he says. "Any man would be lucky to have her." That night, Carey would pose for pictures at her apartment for People magazine - all homey, fixing dinner. It was practically all engagement announcement - and at the same time, politically advantageous to allay the jet-set image. A Zigzag Tale

Carey is talking about his children. "In such a large family we had the 'buddy system.' The older child picks a younger child and becomes a buddy. Something must be working because every child eligible by reason of age has gone all the way in education - several are on scholarships, two are cum laude . . ." and on down the list of their achievements.

Education is a consuming point with Carey, who doesn't hesitate to tell that, "I set the record for the highest grade received in a New York elementary school - my average was 99.875. After putting up with me all these years, my poor parents were in the audience and able to hear, "General excellence, High L. Carey; history, Hugh L. Carey, mathematics, Hugh L. Carey, then I went to high school and took up sports and learned to dance and my scholarship career plummeted."

The helicopter is flying over Long Beach, a decaying resort suburb outside Manhattan and Carey points out the Lido Beach Club. "Al Smith refused to go there until they admitted Jews. And when they did, I caddied for him."

Carey is enjoying himself, telling the zigzag tale that got him to New York's governor's mansion - and revealing a hustling, achieving Irish kid as well.

His grandfather was an immigrant hod carrier - "but on my mother's side, her grandfather owned all the public houses, and her brother was a successful stockbroker. He later became what you call a bettling commissioner. That's a bookie today. That's where I got my love of the horses. My uncle. He used to handle bets for people like Bernie Baruch."

Carey's mother was a secretary to that intrepid reporter Nellie Bly, who also ran a steel barrel business. "My father needed barrels to ship his oil. The way to get the barrels was to get next to Miss Collins. He even learned to dance so he could take her out and get her to put him at the head of the list of those all-too-scarce barrels."

There were up-and-down times in his father's oil business. At one point, Carey drove the truck. "Then we doubled the business - got another truck." Carey's brother, Ed, turned that business into the New England Petroleum Corp. one of the largest private companies in the world, grossing more than $800 million in 1974. Hugh was a salesman and once when Ed got mad enough to fire him, "You can't fire me - I'm your brother." Ed decided he was right.

During the war Carey got the Croix de Guerre and the Bronze and Silver Stars when he invaded Cologne, Germany. "I got my troops across the bridge and then the bridge fell down, in an extremely skilful maneuver I captured 140,000 troops inside the Ruhr pocket."

After the war, Carey graduated from St. John's law-school and later got reacquainted with a girl he met in high school - running into her under the clock at the Biltmore. "In high school I was dating the head of this sorority, and part of the initiation was that the pledge had to kiss the boyfriend of the head of the sorority. One of the pledgies was Helen. She kissed me and I never forgot it." Helen, meantime, had married a Navy officer. He was killed in the Pacific. "I saw her in September and we got married in February. We had 25 good years together," says Carey, who will drag out pictures of his wife in the late evening hours to show how much the children look like her. 'We Did Okay'

Washington and Congress was not a planned goal. "My enemies would say, it shows the evil of junk mail," says Carey. He explains his off-the-wall comment. In 1960, he got a political flyer from his congressman stating that Nixon would beat Kennedy two-to-one in the district. Carey decided a guy like that ought to get beat - and went down to work against him. The Democrats said he was running unopposed. So Carey decided to run.

"Helen said, "That proves you're crazy.' We had 10 kids to support at the time - but between some of her financial resources and mine, we did okay."

Carey became a force on the Ways and Means Committee, but as Helen became ill, the strain of running the family took its toll. And Congress lost its kick for Carey.

His running for governor in 1974, his son Paul says, "Right after mother's death, kept us going, and kept us together."

So what would Carey - the former congressman (for 14 years) - do if he were defeated next month? He has just left an upstate New York vineyard and so he says, "Grow grapes." The whimsy continues. "I'll put an ad in the paper: "Willing to work long hours. Make minimal public appearances. With time to think and modest pay."

He pauses. "I'd be finished in government." The Senate? "No way. Washington's all right, but there are no good delis and no good bread." The presidency? The man whose dreams of glory once included the presidency, now smiles, shakes his head no and warbles: "I L-o-v-e New York. New York is beautiful!"

Why, after all, is he running? Because he thinks he can save New York. And it's a challenge. "I hate to lose."

Somehow, that doesn't sound quite right.

"But don't associate the Irish with fighting. Associate the Irish with intellect. The Irish taught the English how to write. Who was Jonathan Swift? Irish. Who was George Bernard Shaw? Irish. Who was Eugene O'Neill? Keats? Yeats? Irish, Irish, Irish. Nobody knows who Shakespeare was - but some people think he was Irish."

And nobody knows who Hugh L. Carey is, but everybody knows he's Irish.