They are not, contrary to current thought, one person, to be conveniently alternated back and forth in jobs. In fact they are three very different people. Jody Powell the most different from the other two.

Jerry Rafshoon is 45, 10 years older than Jopy Powell and 11 years older than Hamilton Jordan. Yet Jordan and Rafshoon are inseparable friends, Powell is really a very close professional friend of the other two.

"I don't really know him," says Rafshoon of Powell. "Most people around Jimmy are loners. Jimmy's a loner. Hamilton's a loner. I'm a loner."

"Jody's not easy to be close to," says Jordan. "He's a complex person. Most people think Jody and I go out every night together.

"But our relationship is more professional than personal. After the end of the day, he's got so much on him, people don't always appreciate it around here. Sometimes he's hard to reach. He very seldom allows his emotions to let him behave in a way that's not in the president's best interests," says, Jordan, rolling his eyes skyward and laughing.

"But God knows he's not perfect."

When Jerry Rafshoon was brought in last summer to help out with Carter's media image, many people assumed it was because Powell was not doing his job properly. And there were rumors all over the White House that the two did not get along, that Powell felt his position was being usurped by Rafshoon and that he would be made to look a failure.

And, shortly after Rafshoon took over, the Camp David summit talks took place and Carter's rating soared, only fueling the flames. There may have been some sense of insecurity on Powell's part, but his relief in haveing Rafshoon take over so many duties he had no time to perform quickly overcame any residual resentment that may have occurred.

And naturally everybody denies everything about rifts.

Jerry Rafshoon realizes better than anyone else how badly things were going for for Jimmy Carter last summer, during that grim period Jody Powell talked about on the raft trip just before Camp David. And they all realized that it wasn't just the press who was responsible for their bad times.

Powell attributes some of the changed attitudes on the Carter staff to a column by Meg Greenfield in The Washington Post called "Peter Pan Politics." In effect, Greenfield suggested that they grow up.

"Hamilton," says, Powell, "had become the victim of his own image, his own publicity." And Powell says that Jordan realized he was not helping the president, and besides, "He realized it was not worth the hassle."

"We just got our act together," says Rafshoon.

It was last spring, when Carter held the senior staff meetings at Camp David, that it was decided Rafshoon should come aboard.

It was then, says Rafshoon, that Anne Wexler and Time Kraft got involved in stroking political types. "We all realized there were problems. There were good solid things happening but they weren't being perceived."

But Jody Powell does say that he wasn't doing his job properly. "It was a fact. I never really got depressed about it. It was obvious to me I had bitten off more than I could chew. And I had two ways of looking at it.

"Either the problem was that there was more to do then anybody could handle, or anybody could have done it except for me." Powell says he chose to believe the former.

He also says he feels relieved because having Rafshoon in the White House -- now handling the speechwriting team, the press advances, the photographic problems and many of the interviews -- gives him more time to sit in on meetings and know what's really going on when he briefs the press.

"The best way to defend an issue is to be in on the discussions."

And Powell thinks the president is getting more credit for things now than he did before Rafshoon came. "Jerry has more time to think about things, see them coming."

'No Boundaries'

"When the time came for my little empire to be transferred to Jerry," says former White House speech-writer James Fallows, "Jody made the case for it. He said he didn't have time to work with me and that Rafshoon was somebody who was equally well positioned with Carter, an equally effective persuader. That turned out to be true."

"The president expects more of Jody than he would a press secretary." says Rafshoon. "He also has an advisory capacity. His job has no boundaries. Jody has to keep up with everything. I'm working with themes and the selling of programs. I have the time."

But Bob Strauss probably sums up Rafshoon's value more succinctly than anyone else.

"Jerry put structure to th whole operation," says Strauss. "These bastards can't get anything done. They can't return a phone call. They can put a man on the moon but they can't answer a phone call. Jody's a inefficient an administrator as I've ever seen. He may not use his time well, or organize, but the S.O.B. manages to get a good deal done."

Powell, Jordan and Rafshoon fall all over each other to deny special closeness to the president, each insisting the other is closer, the other is moer involved in policy planning, the other has more influence.

"I think Hamilton's influence has grown," says Powell. "mine is more compartmentalized."

"Jody has a much closer personal relationship with the president than I do," says Jordan.

"Jodyhs a lot closer to the president," says Rafshoon, "even though I've known him longer. They could do without me here; they couldn't do without Jody Powell."

"I know that if I protest too much people will think I am the closest." says Powell, shrugging. "That's really a comment on Washington."

Hamilton Jordan's office is down the corridor from the president's Oval Office. He receives in a large, dull, green anteroom with a large table, no desks and pea-green chairs. Jerry Rafshoon's office, Nixon's old office in the Executive Office Building, by contrast is beautifully decorated, with matching sofas and chairs and attractive paintings.

'Great Chain of Being'

The three of them, according to everupme who has worked with them, do not vote for the president's favor or jockey for a closer role in the presidential circle. They are already there. This makes a more relaxing atmosphere among the senior staff. The senior staff from Georgia, that is.

"Jody," says a close observer, is the ultimate loyalist. There are no more new folks getting closer to the king than he can prevent."

Fallows, who worked under Powell, then Rafshoon after the reorganization and is now a writer for The Atlantic Monthly, refers to the "medieval great chain of being" at the White House. "Everybody," says Fallows, "knows what place he or she has. Rafshoon coming didn't mean for instance that Jody would lose his place. And no one who has arrived more recently has risen any higher than those already there."

"I think Jody is as much responsible for the chemistry of the White House senior staff as anybody," says Strauss. "There is a lack of competitiveness for the president's ear and the president's time. It's so different from the old days when anybody in town could get a story on any senior White House staffer. The press has to go to the third level now for throats to be cut. That's unique.

"Each one has all the power he needs," says Strauss. "And they are loyal too. Frank Moore (White House congressional liasion and fellow Georgian) had so many problems when he started out that without the support from Jody and Ham he'd never have made it."

"Jody will see the president every day," says Rafshoon. "He'll call me and tell me about it. We don't worry about who Jimmy's going to be partial to. We both have different types of relationships to the president. I've been a little more detached. I've never worked for him full-time. He's been my client and my friend.

"There's a lot to be said," says Powell, "for the much-maligned group of Georgians. We don't have any inherent distrust of one another."

"Jody and myself have both a personal and a professional relationship with the president," says Jordan. "It's hard to tell where it begins and where it ends. We spend less time with the president now than we did before. The dynamics have changed."

'When Jody Jumps in'

Jody, says Jordan, gets more involved in the domestic area.Jordan, according to Powell, is very involved in foreign affairs. "Jody would probably be comfortable with any decision Carter Made," says Jordan. "if not, he'd speak up. We're general observers rather than participants.

"We generally get involved," says Jordan, "only if we feel strongly. And usually that involves how to explain something, how to present it to the American people. Carter realizes the lack of substantive knowledge on our part. Sometimes he'll want to just talk it out. Jody has to deal with the perception of exaggerated nfluence on the president. But when Jody feels strongly about somethings the president pays a lot of attention to it. And I can tell you there are specific P.R. issues that if Jody had been there we would't have had as much trouble with. When Jody jumps in, Carter pays a hell of a lot of attention and the rest of us around here do too. That's Jody's strength. He doesn't try to get involved in everything. When he does it's rare.

"And Jody and I have a different relationship with Jimmy than Jerry because of our ages. When they first met, Jerry was a successful businessman.Jody and I were college kids."

Jordan says that being compared to, confused with, and connected to Jody Powell all the time as though they were Siamese twins doesn't bother him. And in fact he begins a lot of sentences with "Jody and I," several times apologizing ruefully for trying to inject himself into Powell's story.

"The Jody-Ja, thing doesn't bother me," he says. "It's like my 'influence.' Everybody greatly exaggerates both, people try to make it a big deal."

Those who know them both very well are unanimous in their assesment that Powell is the more intelligent of the two. In fact most people who know the senior staff think Jody Powell is the smartest person Carter has around him.

Hamilton Jordan doesn't understand all the confusion between him and Jody Powell. Or among him and Powell and Rafshoon.

Rafshoon, he explains, "is so much older. He's more of a contemporary of the presidents."

And Powell?

"Well," says Jordan with a cocky grin, "I'm from Albany, Ga., and Jody's from Vienna. I'm a city boy. Jody's a hick."