UNLESS YOU are a Capitol Hill insider, a grizzled veteran of the Great Society or maybe of the New Frontier, then probably you never have heard of one Craig Raupe. And according to the rules of the political game, that is the way it's supposed to be. Capitol Hill staffers are expected to hide their lights under a bushel and to keep their mouths shut. For 25 years Craig Raupe had been an expert at that.

B. (for Buel) Craig Raupe is the executive assistant to House Majority Leader Jim Wright (D-Tex.) Raupe's the man who has made the House wheels turn. For more than three years, he has performed what may be the toughest job in Congress. Now he is getting ready to pack it in when Congress adjourns, to retreat to his native Texas "and put my life in a lower gear." Those of us who have watched him run with the throttle wide open for a quarter-century frankly wonder how he will accommodate to lazy fishing.

You are going to have to forgive a lot of personal references in this. Craig Raupe and I came to Capitol Hill as young political firebrands on the same day, in late 1954; two green Texas gourds atwitter with ambition and foolish notions of saving the world. Before that first day was out we shared beers at the old Mike Palm's -- it's gone now, and so is Mike -- exchanged personal histories and laughed a lot.

I think we then thought of ourselves as socialists, a secret to be kept from the Texas electorate at all costs, to say nothing of our congressional bosses Jim Wright and J.T. Rutherford. They were old men of 32 and 34; consequently, they might not have understood the superior schemes of geniuses then 29 and 25. We saw it as our duty to manipulate them where possible, to trick or encourage them to vote as liberal and humanistic as we fancied ourselves to be. We didn't trust anybody over 30 long before that became the slogan of a later generation.

Now it is October 1979. Craig Raupe, 54, viewing the milling members of the House of Representatives from a high perch in a visitor's gallery. A prying reportr is asking him to point out the House drunks and lechers and thieves, certain he knows the perfidies of our statesmen more clearly than their wives. Raupe says, "Come on now, you cynical son of a bitch. We've got 435 men and women in this Congress. They're subject to more pressures and temptations than any group of people in the world. I'm amazed not that an occasional crook or devate or problem lush comes along --but that they're so relatively rare they're worthy of second-coming headlines when they surface."

Stuff and nonsense, old friend. Why, if the House Ethics Committee caught a representative stealing a hot stove its only concern would be whether their distinguished colleague had burned his hands.

He laughs. "Well, I guess people around here are reluctant to pass quick judgements on each other. There's a brotherhod, no doubt about it. But more than that, these guys believe that the ultimate jury should be a congressman's contituents. They all live and die by plebiscite. And that's the way they think it should be."

Raupe examines the Republican side of the aisle. "I don't know most of those people. God, look how young and bland they are! Buncha goddamn Jaycees."

He knows the Democrats to the last in number. They are on the phone wheedling and demanding and cajoling shortly after he arrives in the majority leader's Capitol Building suite each morning at 7 a.m. It is Raupe's primary job to schedule bills for floor action, to know always where each of hundreds of bills may be in the legislative process, and to subtly twist arms when the leadership must round up votes.

From his chair next to power he has the opportunity to influence, to one degree or another, everything from committee assignments to the fate of legislation to where and with whom Jim Wright may eat supper. Honey bees buzz about him seeking nectar; now and again one tries to sting him. Raupe has had his hand scratched and his coat torn by supplicants desperate to have their will worked in those final, hectic hours before adjournment. A representative from Appalachia once bunched and crushed Raupe's lapels on the House floor, cursed him and reminded him he was "nothing but a goddamn staffer." When the representative cooled down, he came wringing his hands to announce his intent to publicly apologize to Raupe, to the leadership and to the full House, "Please don't do that," Raupe said. "It would turn a molehill into a mountain. And it would be beneath the dignity of this place."

"Craig is a calming influence," says his counterpart in the office of House Speaker Tip O'Neill, Gary Hmel. "Maybe it's because he's been around so long and has been through so much. Maybe it's because of his Texas humor or because he's so practical and pramatic. Anyhow, when everybody is hot under the collar and yelling he's always the one to step in and restore order. I don't know anybody's judgement I respect more. He's taught me to know what's important."

Moreover Leader Wright, Raupe's direct boss, is not without a temper and sometimes frets excessively. When he is getting too worked up, Raupe takes him aside and tugs his sleeve and says, "Jim, don't forget the Roman emperor." It is an old private code between them, dating back to when both were rookies in the House on a day when Wright had gotten himself unusually exercised over a matter probably not as vital as he momentarily thought. That's when Raupe told him the story of the Roman emperor who after a winning battle reviewed his troops as they marched by "phalanx after phalanx" and then, suddenly, began to weep. A functionary inquired why. "Because a hundred years from today," the emperor wept, "those good proud men will all be dead."

Craig Raupe looks a bit like Harry Hopkins, the dyspeptic man Friday to Franklin D. Roosevelt. Lean and graying at 54, Raupe walks a tad stooped and with a slight hitch resulting from a stroke he suffered almost 15 years ago, a cerebral thrombosis that left him "terminal for two months" in Alexandria Hospital. Rep. Wright, Bill Moyers and others told President Lyndon B. Johnson of this desperation; LBJ immediately ordered Raupe admitted to Walter Reed Hospital and "the best possible care." A second opeation gave him a chance to live; thereafter, for weeks, he was kept alive "by drugs and machines." Almost two years passed before he recovered.

Then came a pretty good bout with the bottle. Though it has been many years since Craig Raupe has had a drink, he's reluctant to talk about those old dark days or the work he has accomplished with Alcohols Anonymous. "If Craig sees a congressman chronicaly nipping," says Gary Hymel, "he writes him a private note or seeks him out for a chat. I don't know if I'm supposed to say this, but he meets with an A.A. chapter every week here on the Hill -- members, staffers, patronage people. Anybody who's got a problem. And there's no doubt he's the guiding force behind those meetings.

Speaker Tip O'Neill is absolutely astonished. Sitting all huge and bulky and improbably white-haired in hisceremonial office in Room 209 in the Capitol, having disposed of a routine mass press conference, he waves a foot-long cigar like it might be a baton and asked, "Why in hell is Craig quitting? Hell" -- the speaker says, sincerely puzzled -- "he seems like a man in love with his job. He's brilliant at it. So why the hell is he quitting?"

Craig Raupe is embarrassed when told of the speaker's reaction and is astonished in his own right. "Well, no, I hadn't told him. My God, what an oversight on my part!" He picks up his telephone, using his direct line to the speaker's office, and urgently seeks an early appointment to assure the big man he hadn't meant to indirectly deliver an embarrassing surprise. "Goddamn," he says, on hanging up, "I must be slippin'."

But before that call is made the speaker is saying, "He had no leadership experience at all. Frankly, we thought it would take forever to train him. We didn't know anything about him -- later, we'd find he'd worked for Kennedy's White House and with Lyndon Johnson, but we didn't know that then. But Craig picked up on his duties quicker than we could believe. I remember in a few weeks saying to Gary Hymel, 'He blends in better than if we'd chosen him personally.' aw, he's a sweetheart. He's got this great sense of humor -- full of Texas soliloquies. I wish I could remember one right now; he's full of them and not only are they funny, they always make a point." The speaker stops and chuckles and says, "And they're so well-timed. Geez, Gary, are we gonna miss that fellow?" He sits back and puffs his cigar and says, "I just don't understand why he'd want to quit."

No politician can. You don't get to the top of the churn, where the cream is, without having been long jousted down in the bottom while somebody else made the butter, shaped it and sold it at their own price. You don't get to be where Craig Raupe is -- one of the four or five "super-staffers" in all of Congress, if that many -- and then walk off from the $52,500 and the desk big enough to straddle a dray horse -- sitting under impressive crystal chandeliers -- and the best invitations and the perks and the goodies directly ahead. Jim Wright, for instance, is a vigorous 56; a term, two terms from now he'll likely be speaker. And Craig Raupe, if he wanted to, could go along on that merry ride and maybe wind up in the history books.

"Well, yes," Raupe says, 'that's tempting. Franklin Roosevelt once spoke of 'those selfless young men with a passion for anonymity' the government needed. I've been one of those, and it hasn't been easy. Nobody really wants that when you get down to it.

"But it's probably proper. I'm older now, you know, than a God-awful percentage of the House is. But I believe in calling them 'Congressman' or 'Mr. Chairman' and it doesn't have a damn thning to do with obsequiousness. These people have been issued a little piece of the national sovereignty; I haven't. At least 500,000 people have elected them in the democratic process. I haven't been elected to s---. No matter what titles they lay on us, there are really two types of people on Capitol Hill: members and clerks. And I've always tried to remember that I'm a clerk."

Well, neighbors, I'm here to tell you it can't have been easy. I remember when we once argued, only half-jokingly, about which one of us would be required to settle for the No. 2 spot on the national ticket when our time came.

Raupe is puffing about his 39th cigarette of the morning, splashing ashes all down his conservative three-piece, only occasionally having to reach for the phone because it is Columbus Day and the government officially is closed; he has compromised with official idleness by coming to the office as late as 9 a.m.

"There's a time to stay and a time to go," he says. "It's simply time to go. This is a young man's job. I came to Washington at 29, running from the Depression and for God. Grabbin for the big brass ring. And at some point -- hell, it's natural -- that kinda thing becomes less important to you.

"Look, I stood by JFK's gravesite when they lowered him down. I helped bury Sam Rayburn. For five years, every Thursday afternoon in the JFK and LBJ years, I went to the White House for policy meetings. Hell, you know my history." (Indeed: Hill administrative aide. Foreign Service officer in Vietnam and Indonesia. Director of congressional liaison for A.I.D. Executive for Eastern Airlines. Director of ethic activities for the Democratic National Committee in '64 and '68. Consort of the powerful and the mighty, and all the time nobody out there knowing about it.)

"I been real lucky for an ol' Texas boy. I wouldn't take for it. But one day you wake up and realize you ain't gonna invent dynamite or the ballpoint pen. You ain't gonna write the Great American Novel. So you adjust. You go on back to teach and write, like you started out doing and meant to continue. I know Thomas Wolfe told everybody that 'you can't go home again' bull----. He was wrong. You can. And I'm going back where -- as LBJ said -- folks know when you're sick and care when you die.'"

Jim Wright says, "Sure, I remember how I first met Craig. I was the mayor of the little Texas town of Weatherford. And craig moved there to teach history and government at Weatherford Junior College -- I wrote him a 'welcome-to-town' letter. Weatherford was small then, you knew when somebody moved in and hooked up to the public utilities system.

"So he got my letter -- it was summertime - and called on me at city hall to say he didn't have a dime and had to get through the summer until school started, and damn if he didn't hit me up for a job. Well, he was obviously intelligent and full of energy, so I gave him a job running the city swimming pool that summer. And he was always coming around bringing good books and talking about them; he was full of ideas and he breathed politics. One day I said, 'Craig, I'm gonna run for Congress. And I'd like your help.' And he laughed and said, 'I don't think you got a prayer, Jim. But I'm damn sure with you.' Now that impressed me. People who'll get out front when they don't believe you can win -- well, they're rare. Craig worked in my congressional campaign night and day without a nickel. And when we upset the entrenched incumbent, which against the odds, he came to Washington with me."

Why the majority leader is asked, did you single him out so long ago?

A long silence. Then Jim Wright says, "Well, I liked the fellow. And he was . . . obviously intellectual without preening it. He spoke straight. And his energy. I can't forget his energy."

That energy damn near killed men the first term I worked in Congress.

I didn't have a car in those poor days. Craig Raupe didn't have much of one -- a wheezing green '37 Chrysler heading toward 20 years old -- but it was my way to work form the Washington suburbs where we were neighbors. The trouble was, Raupe insisted on being in the office at 6 a.m.; on the average he consented to go home about 14 hours later. I was reasonably loyal to J.T. Rutherford and the republic for which he stood, and didn't truly mind giving an honest day for a honest dollar. But hell, man, there's a limit! I became a youthful budding drunk, lying around the bars waiting for my ride home. One night I charged into Jim Wright's office in the Longworth Building, bent on chewing him out for shackling his employees to their desks, and there found Craig Raupe to be the only soul on the semi-darkened premises. He was writing -- in a leisurely looping longhand -- in a notebook. "I try to keep a journal," he said, "in case Jim gets to be president. Somebody's gotta think of the historical record."

In 1960, Raupe abruptly went into the Foreign Service. "I hated to lose him," Jim Wright says. "If he'd been with me in '61, when I missed being elected to the U.S. Senate by a small margin, I've no doubt I would have won. But I would have been an S.O.B. to stand in his way."

Jim Wright hired me to replace Craig Raupe. No more doomed or dismal experiment ever was conducted. I'm more nervous and volatile than Wright and didn't even know about the Roman emperor. We shouted alot and had a few shoving matches. I eventually quit in abrupt circumstances, much to the ultimate relief and good of all parties. Wright tried a few more of us, finding no Craig Raupes, alas. Then, a half-dozen years ago, all his dark days and varied adventures behind him, Craig Raupe came back.

"It wasn't much fun working for Eastern Airlines," Raupe says. "Yeah, they gave me raises and promoted me every time I turned around and the perks were so many as to be embarrassing. But, I dunno, so the goddam flight's on time and the company makes X million bucks. So what?"

Right away he began to agitate Jim Wright to run for the House leadership. Not that Wright hadn't thought of it in his own right -- hell, he's tough and ambitious and bright -- but can you imagine hims risking it with me as his backup? I mean, if I had been a football coach we'd probably have had to forfeit our first home game because I would have forgotten to arrange for the game balls.

Jim Wright wasn't supposed to have any more chance of getting elected majority leader than Ella Grasso has to be named Miss America. Raupe went off and harrangued everybody coast to coast, from labor leaders to Texas oilmen, and raised so much money for Wright it bordered on the illegal. They gave most of the money to all the Democratic nominees they could find obscure congressional races around the nation, and Jim Wright -- surely the best orator and most persuasive speaker in the House -- paraded from Oshkosh to Pocatello and between, speaking on the stump for a bunch of strangers he hoped would wind up being Democratic representatives. Jimmy Carter won that year, as did a number of freshman Democrats. The next thing you knew, Jim Wright was a pretty serious candidate.

Craig Raupe came to me at that point -- late '76 -- and said, "Write an article saying Jim's got a chance to be elected. We're within a dozen votes of this thing. All we need is for some people to take us a little more seriously."

I was then writing a thrice-weekly column for a Washington newspaper other than this one. I frowned at Raupe and lectured about how I couldn't lend myself to propagandizing. Being an impartial, honest journalist, etc. He was far too polite to laugh. He just looked at me until I squirmed and said, "Well, hell . . . for old time's sake, maybe, Craig. But I gotta have something to hang it on. I just can't write a column headlined 'Wright Pure as Baby Jesus.' You got to give me a hook."

He nodded and went away. I foolishly thought that was the end of it.

A few days later he brought me a Newsweek magazine. He had opened it to a catch-all story about how President-elect Jimmy Carter was down in Georgia praying a lot, playing softball and cleaning out fishponds while his crown got fitted. Deep in the story was an innocuous paragraph saving that, yes, the House had five or six folks running for majority leader and Jimmy had a personal favorite -- but he just grinned and wouldn't say who.

Raupe said, "There's your hook. Write a column making a case why it's logical that Carter is for Jim Wright. It could help us in the Deep South." I fear I stared at him rather blankly. He said, in a hurry as if rushing to catch a bus, "Goddammit, they're both from small towns in the South. They're both born-again Christians. They speak in the same accents." Bla-bla-bla.

Well, let's face it. I propagandized. The newspaper published it on Sunday, before the Monday election. Craig Raupe bought copies for all House Democrats -- sticking on page one a gaudy blue-and-white sticker calling attention to that story on page 16 or whatever -- and had them on the desk of every House Democrat come dawn on caucus day. Jim wright won, 147-146; I don't know if that story had anything to do with it at all. But I do know that Craig Raupe left nothing -- absolutely nothing -- to chance.

Raupe and his wife of 31 years, Joyce, whom he met and married when they were students at North Texas State University, live in the northern Virginia suburbs and go to bed early. It was not always so. In the Kennedy-Johnson years they queued up in receiving lines from Washington to Bangkok, suffered state dinners, danced at the White House. Then, later, when he was an Eastern Airlines executive, they did more of the same only with more boring people.

"And I guess it was a couple of summers ago," Raupe said, "when we were invited to a state dinner at the White House. And we got out the glitter and the shine and the starched stuff, with the patent leather shoes, and then Joyce said, What if we didn't go?'"

They did go, recently, to the White House lawn party at Easter or thereabouts. "Driving home," Raupe said, "it hit me, I'd seen every president from Eisenhower on, and for the first time I thought, 'I don't feel like I was in the presence of the president.' That man's a good campaigner, yes, but he's got to get by being tenacious and dogged. There's just no charisma about him."

Go back in time to early '56, I think. Anyhow, Harry S. Truman was back in town for the first time since he'd left the White House to speak at a Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner. Raupe and I, remember, are young Capitol Hill innocents. Raupe comes to me in great enthusiasm: He had written a paper on how Truman had defeated Dewey in '48 -- back in college -- and it was a good paper, one he wanted Truman to see, and he said, hell, King, let's go down there to the Mayflower Hotel and I'll give him a copy. and bring along your your camera -- I used it to take pictures of Rep. Rutherford with visiting constituents from the Texas outback -- and snap ol' Harry and me.

Raupe called Truman's suite from theMayflower house phone and said, "Lemme speak to Harry Truman."

And a flat, twangy voice said, "This is Harry Truman." Raupe stammered out his purpose; we got invited upstairs for coffee. HST let me take a dozen pictures of them together: Raupe thrusting his paper on Truman, Truman accepting it, them shaking hands over it, and so on. I wanted to hang around, but Craig was eager to see his pictures. He rushed me off to a studio where they promised instant wet-prints, this being long before Polaroid entered the language. The pictures all came back blank. I obviously had caught buck fever and mechanically malfunctioned. Raupe cursed and abused me at great length.

I was home sleeping away the shame when my phone rang in the middle of the night. "Listen," Raupe said, "get your a--outta bed. Truman goes for a walk about dawn every morning. We're gonna be there to do those pictures, and that time I didn't screw up. I had a copy of the best one for years -- Raupe in a flat-top hairdo anda speckled bow tie, skinny and younger than Shirley Temple, him and ol' Harry grinning at one another -- but time passed and different things happened and I think I lost it in a divorce.

The majority leader's man sits with his feet on his desk, and near his feet are three thick piles of telephone messages he must return. ("You can't answer them fast enough to catch up. There's just no way. I have to be selective in my priorities.") "I really love this House. That's no bull----. There's a pull and a tug to it, a vigor to it. I love the trading off, the hammering out.

"You news bastards," he says, pointing a finger, "keep writing how Congress is dragging its a--and has no leadership. Well, in the Senate, maybe. But not in this House. The House has passed everything of substance the president has sent up here. Back in '77 we passed his first energy bill in a matter of days -- the Senate bogged it down.

"Tip O'Neill is the strongest speaker in modern times. Sam Rayburn is the only one to rival him, but Rayburn was hamstrung by not having effective control of the rules committee. That's changed. And O'Neill is a strong personality -- big, burly, charismatic. He can talk to you about anything. He's just the politician's politician. And Jim -- well, you know what I think of Jim Wright. He's simply A No. 1. The best persuader since Henry Clay. John Bradamas, the majority whip; Dan Rostenkowski, the chief deputy whip. First-class men."

Why, then, does it seem to the outside observer that so many Democrats stray off the partisan range? That there is little or no party discipline?

Raupe squints through the smoke and says, "Well, to the extent that it's true -- and it's not always true; hell, just the other day, the speaker told one nominal Democrat he's so useless he should go sit on the other side of the aisle, and I think you'll see that gentleman starting to come around -- it's because of the Balkanization of politics. Single-issue politics. When I came here years ago there were automatics -- if labor for it it was 'good,' or if it had to do with civil rights it was 'good'. A liberal Democrat had guidelines to follow. The partisan positions were clear-cut. But now, on an emotional issue like abortion, for example, if you're on one side you're for murder and if you're on the other side you're forbidding a woman to do with her body and her life what she wants to. So what's the 'libral' position on abortion? There are so many issues now that cut a cross party lines. And the pressure groups are so single-minded that you can vote with their general ideology 99 percent of the time and still catch hell because you didn't go along on their one big issue. Before you can force party discipline, you've gotta figure out what the party line is. yAnd that's not always easy anymore.

"And the administration just ain't worth a damn at the inner workings of politics in this political town. You c an't run against Washington once you've become a part of Washington, and they're still trying that. I'd barely know Hamilton Jordan or Jody Powell and those people if they rode in this office on stickhorses. If you're gonna have a cohesive party, somebody down there in that big white house has got to crack knuckles and slap backs. They can't expect Jim Wright and Tip O'Neill to carry the whole load."

Gary Hymel says, "Listen, I had Craig Raupe's job under Hale Boggs and Tip O'Neill before Tip got to be speaker. It's the toughest job in town. Craig has to organize out of chaos at its highest level. He's in the front-line trenches. Everything in the House starts with him. He's the buffer, the weeder-outer. People cry and whine at him all day long. What I most respect is his judgement, how his snap decisions stand up. Jim Wright calls him 'Judge,' you know. A lot of people do. A lot of 'em think he was a judge of some sort.

"He has to learn to reach each individual member. And to act on that knowledge. He's gotta know when to say to the speaker or the majority leader, 'Now, this guy's gonna pester you, but finesse him -- his bill can wait a week or two.' Or he's gotta be ready to tell the leadership, 'Go with this guy. He's in a bind, he needs help, and he'll owe us one.'

"Craig's unflappable. He's a rock and a steady anchor. He's truly going to be missed around here."

"Will I miss the hurly-burly?" Raupe says "Well, it'd be kinda like missing being tarred and feathered, wouldn't it?" A grin. "Sure, I guess I'll miss it. There is an excitement. The job gives you a keen edge. But it's time to go, I've got a fear of catching 'Potomac Fever.' I don't want to be one of those pitiful old men who nod off at Washington parties and nobody remembers their names anymore. I've always been like the old sheriff's car: I just know two speeds, wide-open and standin' still.

"But don't make it sound like I'm going off to vegetate. I'm gonna teach legislation and public policy formulation at the University of Texas at Arlington. Details are being worked out for me to teach a couple of days a month at the LBJ School on the Austin campus. There are several other old Great Society types down there -- John Grounouski, Wilbur Cohen, walt Rostow.

"And since professors sometimes succumb to the blandishments of private firms -- well, if the right consulting job came along I wouldn't necessarily run from it. I know my way around the Washington maze.

"Joyce and I are building this house, you know, right on the water in my old home town of Granbury. Near Fort Worth. But neither of us intends to sit and rock. She's been the budget fiscal officer for the Foreign Affairs committee for several years, and she'll want to stay active. I'm sure we'll get involved in presidential campaigns. And maybe dabble in local politics."

Dabble-schmabble. Two-to-one the dude within four years runs for mayor of that little Texas town -- or city councilman, or something. Offering himself for public office is about the only political experience Craig Raupe has not had. And, as he says, he ain't going home to vegetate.