Comedian Mark Russell has a new act. He tried it out New Year's Eve at the Shoreham Hotel's Blue Room.

He polls the audience for their favorite presidential candidate, leaving out the name of Rep. John Anderson. Then he sings them this song: "He's from the land of Lincoln out in Illinois. He split many a rail when he was a boy. He's got thirty-seven dollars in his campaign chest. That's why John Anderson is cleaner than the rest. Is he tall or short? It is not recalled. But he has white hair. Or is he bald? His campaign contributions have yet to climb. As he said to Harold Stassen, can you spare a dime? And so I offer you John Anderson, To carry on the void in Washington. If you're looking for perfection, perfection is he, And that's another word for . . . obscu-ri-ty."

"They go crazy," says Russell. "Then I poll them again and they scream and yell for Anderson."

Anderson himself even wrote Mark Russell a letter the other day offering him the vice presidency in his administration.

"And of course," says Russell, "he was serious."

The noise level was so high you could hear it in the apartment elevators. The room was packed so tightly that guests held drinks high so as not to splash their neighbors. The women were simply and elegantly dressed; the men looked appropriately serious in their tweeds and Burberrys. Excited screeches resounded as people recognized friends across the room and squeezed over to give the traditional New York blessing -- a kiss on both cheeks.

It could have been a New York cocktail party out of a Woody Allen movie.

But it wasn't.

It was a Manhattan fund-raiser for John Anderson.

Even Stewart Mott, Democratic philanthropist and bellwether of social politics, was there. "I like Anderson very much," said Mott. "I'm going to support him. I'm supporting Kennedy also. I've always worked for the best candidates for a long time." And if it became a choice between the two? "I don't know," Mott admitted.

Then there was Gail Lumet, former wife of director Sidney Lumet and bellwether of party politics. "I just love Anderson," she said. "I'm for Teddy but it's okay to be here because Anderson's a Republican."

And there was author Elizabeth Janeway, RCA executive Herb Schlosser, editor Victor Navasky -- all curious -- Democrats and Republicans, the kind you would have expected to see in the old days at a John Lindsay or Nelson Rockefellor fund-raiser.

Forty people were expected. More than 200 came. The East Side apartment was too small and half the people were kept waiting outside in the dark, narrow hallway, ushered in for a second sitting only after the early arrivals agreed to leave. Oh, yes. The candidate was there, too. At least that shock of white hair in the corner looked like John Anderson.

The Iowa debate was what everyone was talking about. How courageous Anderson had been to support President Carter's grain embargo of the Soviet Union. How cynical and opportunistic the other candidates were.

Anderson, looking slightly bemused, stood on a cardboard box and spoke to the crowd. "I suppose it's fair to say," he told them, "that many of you are here because of the interest in the big event [the debate] Saturday night."

Applause.

Certainly it was a new experience for him. Dark Horse Chic.

Rep. John Anderson (R-Ill.), presidential candidate, left the apartment building to catch a plane to Boston. Outside, on the dark empty street, there was no cab. His aide had forgotten to hail one. Finally a cab came. But the aide had forgotten his briefcase and the candidate waited patiently in the car until he returned.

The entire traveling Anderson campaign consisted of the candidate, the aide, Mark Bisnow, a reporter and photographer for People magazine and a reporter from The Washington Post. At the airport, everyone including Anderson, chipped in a dollar for the cab.

Anderson went to a pay phone to call his wife Keke, the aide went to get him a hot dog, his dinner.

While Anderson was on the phone, talking and munching his hot dog, Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) walked by with his aide.

"My God," said Rangel, spotting Anderson, "it's my leader." He grabbed the phone. "Hi, Keke, this is your president's man of color. If we can get Joan Kennedy out we gotta get Keke on the trail, too."

Meanwhile, Bisnow, the aide, was advised by the traveling press that he should begin to take notes now that the Anderson campaign looked like it was taking off because of the debate. He could maybe write a book and if Anderson got to be president make a lot of money.

"What should I write?" he asked, genuinely perplexed.

Impressions, anecdotes, ideas, he was told.

Encouraged, he went to the newsstand to buy a notebook.

Walking back to the group, he took out his pen and began to write, very earnestly, in the notebook: "Diary of a Dark Horse . . ."

When the shuttle arrived in Boston for the drive up to New Hampshire and a day's campaigning, Anderson was met by an old, beat-up four-door green sedan which, by all appearances, was seeing its last days.

Anderson's face lit up with surprise and delight.

"Four doors!" he exclaimed. "This is the first time I've had a four-door car!"

John Anderson. The name sounds right. Clear, simple, unadorned, unpretentious.

It fits the man.

John Anderson. You're beginning to hear it a lot. It starts with a discussion of the "real" candidates. Can Teddy beat Jimmy? Will Reagan stave off Bush? Finally sombody will hesitate, then speak. "My candidate is John Anderson."

Another closet Anderson person emerges. Me too, they will say. But he can't win, they will say: He's a Republican Mo Udall.

John Anderson doesn't agree with that. He just keeps plodding along with his vast entourage of two or three, going to factories on bleak New Hampshire mornings, giving interviews, greeting people in restaurants with, "Hello, my name is John Anderson, presidential candidate." Smiling, ever upbeat, ever optimistic.

"I went to the supermarket this morning," he said last Sunday, "and people were actually coming up to me." He smiled. "That's nice for a change."

John Anderson is the no-frills candidate of the '80s, the sturdy, sensible shoes for the long uphill climb of the next decade. No high-heeled rhinestone-studded ankle straps here. This man is solid. He doesn't have the sex appeal of Kennedy or the spiritual appeal of Carter. He's not slick like Connally or Baker, or aloof like Reagan. He's right there looking you in the eye, talking straight, telling you what he believes whether you like it or not. He doesn't try to flatter, cajole, stroke or impress. There is no small talk to him, though he is not solemn. He is opinionated without being judgmental, open-minded without vacillating, unglamorous yet not boring. He is the antithesis of the self-indulgence of the '70s. He seems like a good, decent, honest, intelligent, dedicated man.

But John Anderson has been on the Washington scene for 20 years as a congressman. And no one can be here that long without showing a few defects. Says one political observer: "He couldn't organize a three-car funeral." And indeed the New Hampsire campaign did have a certain loose quality about it. For instance, they lost the press. All three of us.

Dark Horse Chic does have its drawbacks. The Keke to Success

After 20 years in the House of Representatives, John Anderson is bored. He needed a challenge. He thought running for the Senate might not be a bad idea. But his wife had other ideas.

Keke Anderson, says anyone who knows the two of them, is the key to John Anderson. Marrying Keke, say friends, is the one uncharacteristic thing John Anderson has ever done. She is the go-getter, she is the political killer, she is the one who persuaded him to run for the presidency. She is fiercely supportive of her husband.

At the last Republican convention, during the long minutes while the delegates were screaming and cheering for Reagan, Keke Anderson went from television reporter to reporter on the floor telling them that Gerald Ford had spent a half hour with her husband earlier that day. John Anderson appeared on several networks before any of the candidates knew what was happening. Even then she had her eye on 1980.

If John Anderson at 57 is the quintesential son of a Swedish immigrant, then she, 10 years younger, is the quintessential daughter of Greek immigrants.

"It's the Mediterranean in her," he says, looking at his wife with something bordering on awe. "They tend to be more tempestuous, have a lower boiling point. We tend to be more congealed.

"The cold Swedes," she says, "need the Mediterranean warmth."

The Andersons are at home, a modest house off River Road in Bethesda. Three of their five children, plus dog, plus aide, gather around for an interview. The Andersons snuggle up on the sofa together.

They are so frank and open it is clear they have not had much exposure to the national media. All that will change.

It is a noisy household, with one child playing the piano, the littlest one sniffling from a cold, the phone ringing, people coming in and out of the kitchen.

The house is furnished with knickknacks and odd pieces of furniture with little organization. It looks like a house where the decorating got put on hold several years ago and was never quite resumed.

"It will be a hectic White House," says Keke Anderson matter-of-factly. "There'll be everything from a sandbox to Sartre."

She smiles and turns to Anderson, who is sitting rather rigidly next to her. She smooths his hair back. He beams.

"Should I go put on a jacket for the photograph?" he asks.

Anderson is wearing two gold wedding bands. Earlier, in New Hampshire, he was asked why. He had explained that the old one was wearing out and that on a trip in Denmark he had just decided to buy a new one. He said he didn't know whether his wife had two or not.

"John!" she exclaimed when he hears this. "I'm crushed you forgot the real meaning of our wedding rings. We decided that at the end of each decade, if things were going well, he would buy a new ring. So by the time we had been married 65 years he'd have a solid gold finger. It's almost time for a third," she says. "It's been 27 years."

Only a day earlier on the campaign trail Anderson had seemed so staid and serious, but his personality changes almost completely around his wife. She loosens him up, teases him, flirts with him, tells him he's wonderful. And around her he turns into putty.

He begins to tell a story of how they met. "Let me tell it," she jumps in. "It's cute."

He was in the foreign service on his way to East Berlin. She took passport pictures. He came in to have his picture taken. "He had that lean, hungry look," she says. "I took one look and said that's my husband. Then when I heard his voice, I said, 'That's it.' I asked him to smile for his picture, but he wouldn't. Then I said, 'Just a little itsy bitsy smile?' and he smiled with his eyes closed."

This led to another photo session, dinner, the movies and her telling him she loved him as he prepared to leave for Germany.

"Do you know, he patted me and said, 'My dear, it's just puppy love. You'll get over it.' I said, 'You'll be sorry.'

"He left. But Thanksgiving brought a telegram saying 'Come to me.'" And she wired back, "Am considering telegram as a proposal. Send money."

She left for Germany and they were married immediately. They grin at each other; obviously this is one of their favorite stories. Then her face clouds over. "If he ever leaves me for another woman," she says, "he's not worth having."

Both of them have thought a lot about why Anderson should run for president, they say. Especially Keke, who planted the idea in his head.

"He has been in Congress 20 years," she says, "and in that time he has built up a feeling of respect on both sides of the aisle. He's taken courageous stands. Our only hope is somewhere, somehow, even if it was only two or three people, to show that men like John Anderson still exist. We had to do it."

"That's quite a speech," he says, patting her, then adding: "I think the bonds between Keke and me are strong enough that our life together in the White House would tend to flourish. Pat Nixon clearly never was with it, there was no relationship between the two of them.Betty Ford had a problem she faced courageously. But her problem originally had its inception in Jerry Ford's singlemindedness in his career. In my case, I feel Keke and I are sufficiently interested in talking about subjects that occupy every waking moment."

"It would be a condominium," he says, adding quickly: "Not that you elect a president's wife, but she is so very much a part of it I can't imagine life in the White House without her." The effect of the presidency on family life and relationships is one they have only begun to consider and still have little realistic idea of the impact. "I would accept the fact that it would age you, that it would take some toll," he says. "But if you were better organized, had classier talent around, you wouldn't be so driven. Carter seems so, going up the mountain top [Camp David] in that bizarre way. But it's the challenge to translate plans into action. That's the lure."

"I have to be candid," says Keke Anderson. "He shied away from it at first. He recognized what being president meant. He really felt the seriousness of the decision."

"And," he says, "I recognized how tough it is to get from here to there."

They both say they are prepared for the criticism that being in the White House engenders.

"I don't think it would come as a shock to us," she says. "Whereas Jimmy and Rosalynn, coming as outsiders, they couldn't imagine this would happen. I can. But if and when it does happen it will not devastate this family."

He laughs. "No, no, no. In the old New York Herald Tribune, Horace Greeley referred to Abe Lincoln as a baboon."

"It is," she reflects for a moment, "going to cause some pain . . . but certainly my children and family come first. I remember saying to my husband in the middle of his career that going somewhere to be with him caused a terrible sense of guilt leaving the family. If you gain the whole world and one devastating thing happens to one member of your family it wouldn't be worth it. For me it was difficult trying to reconcile the two [his career and their family life]. I remember looking out the kitchen window recently and thinging he's increasingly busy. I don't see him often. If a political wife tells you it doesn't matter she's being unrealistic. I don't care who you are."

She brightens. "But then, I couldn't ask for a better husband. I'd say, 'C'mon, you'll have to give up a few engagements or I'll get a housekeeper or something.'"

"You're very verbal," he agrees.

"Betty Ford," she says, "her husband was gone more than John. But I have a strong sense of self-preservation. I can't imagine devastating myself, physically or mentally, over anything that's happening to me."

"She's like that gal in the song," he says. "I shall survive."

"Here's Joan Kennedy," she says, "with everything in the world to live for. How can they allow this to happen to them? They get involved and then become captives of their situation. By nature I've had to force myself to be strong. I'd like someone to lean on. But I have too many things to do. I have a braking mechanism. I stop and say, 'Hey John, we have to reorganize our priorities here for a week or two.' Why don't men feel the strain that would devastate themselves instead of their wives? There's a little anger there. They go on merrily while the wife devastates herself. It angers me. I read once where love in a man's life is a thing apart, but 'tis a woman's whole existence. That used to be true. And maybe that's part of my anger that men don't get devastated.

"Maybe when we reach the point where women do have a chance to carve their own careers they won't have to feel that."

During this spiel Anderson is listening quietly, intently.

They are both asked what Keke Anderson's role would be as first lady.

"I've never gotten over the childish habit of firing questions," she says. "I think that serves a purpose of opening thoughts."

"I think the great value you have, my dear," he says to her, "is that you are extremely perceptive about people. You can sit in a room and assess motivations . . . I've always been careful," he says, "never to criticize Rosalynn. If you have a warm close relationship, advice flows back and forth. But there should be a certain circumspection in public. She made one statement that Jimmy would not hesitate to lead the country to war. That appalled me. That should come from the lips of nobody but the president."

"I don't believe she advises him on policy, though," says Mrs. Anderson. "She's out there shoring up Jimmy Carter."

"That bothered me," he says, "that the wife is being one more flack in the service of the crown."

Keke Anderson hasn't really thought through what her project would be if her husband were elected, so she sounds rather vague when she says things like, "I guess my real concern is . . . to make the planet safe for my children." And she quotes Anwar Sadat as he arrived in Jerusalem, saying he had a powerful ally in the mothers of Israel. "If mothers have a desire in life it would be to make the world safe for their children."

Both the Andersons feel that having lived in Washington and been involved in the political scene here for 20 years has given them a good understanding of the nuances of politics in Washington, something they feel the Carter's lack.

"It doesn't take much experience," she says, "to realize there's a congressional body. You'd think they would say, 'Let's talk to them, invite them to dinner.' Rosalynn could have had the wives to lunch."

He sees power in Washington in terms of issues, she in terms of people. "I think of the use of power in terms of new ideas rather than levers that you pull," he says.

"Some people," she says, "realize -- rightly or wrongly -- that congressmen have influence. We can see through people who care about us rather than whatever position John might hold."

It is interesting to see a couple who have lived here so long but still lack the cynicism that often develops among people who have lived in the "vortex of power," as Anderson calls it.

And yet, last year, when Keke Anderson moved out to Illinois to establish a base to help her husband's close election race, it was there that she began to see Washington from a certain perspective.

"You do sometimes get a sense," she says, "that this is not the real world we're living in here."

"Be careful," he warns, jumping into the conversation. "You'll sound like Carter."

But they both understand the need to get away, to find someplace to relax, to ease the tensions of a pressurized political existence.He says he likes to go to the beach. In fact, he says, though he is "quite miserly," the only thing he wishes they had more money for is a beach house.

"I can't believe you said that," she says looking shocked. "I'm the one who's been screaming about a beach house."

"Well, after 25 years of your scrimping and saving for my political career, it's time you had something you wanted."

They look at each other stunned, as though they had never had this conversation before.

"Someday," she says, patting him and changing the subject, "I'm going to publish your love letters."

He flushes."Not until 30 years after my death."

They're back on the subject of escape.

"Somewhere to run," she sings, "when my life comes undone." Then she gets a mischievous glint in her eye. "One night," she says, "coming home from a dinner John said to me, 'We're going to the Georgetown Inn.' And he swung around and checked into the bridal suite."

He throws back his head and laughs with delight. "No luggage either," he confides. "That made it much better." The Way It Goes

Dark Horse Days: The candidate is on the Eastern shuttle from New York to Boson. A man comes up to him on the plane and asks if he is John Anderson. Anderson perks up. Being recognized is still new to him. "I saw you on the debate," says the man, smiling deceptively. "Did you like it?" Anderson asks.

"No," says the man.

"Why not?" asks Anderson, his face falling.

"You're too liberal," he says. "I agreed with Crane."

"Well," says Anderson, "if you agreed with Crane you wouldn't agree with me." Then, to nobody in particular, "You can't win 'em all."

In the car the next morning, riding from a factory, Anderson is discussing with his aide, Bisnow, the pros and cons of economic sanctions in Iran. He says he has talked to George Ball and Ball doesn't feel that sanctions are the answer. Anderson is more or less trying out his position, something unheard of in front of a reporter under most normal campaign conditions. Then he begins to discuss with a reporter the various possible positions on the issues.

He arrives in Manchester, N.H. and asks to use the phone at a lawyer's office where he is meeting with a campaign director. "It's a credit card call," he assures the lawyer.

In a bank in another town an elderly woman comes up smiling to shake his hand, then asks him how he stands on abortion. "I'm for free choice," he says firmly.

"You won't get my vote," she snarls, and walks off.

He shrugs. "That's the way it goes." The Roar of the Crowd

Those who have watched him in other races say that Anderson does not handle the competition well when he is the front-runner.

And of course the conservative Republicans are in a constant rage over the fact that he votes with the Democrats much of the time.

"This," says Anderson, "is the cardinal vice. If your vies are slightly malleable then that represents a desertion from basic principles. I look at life as an experience of growth. Otherwise I'd die. We just have philosophical differences. I cannot conceive of how Republicans can repeat the shibboleth 'We must broaden the party' and then criticize those who attract Democrats. I don't regard them as contaminating."

Bob Bauman, a conservative Republican from Maryland, is one of those who has been frustrated by what he sees as Anderson's changing political stance, though he calls Anderson "very capable and very able."

"I was on the congressional staff as a page when Anderson first came [20 years ago]," he says. "His considerable oratorical charm was used then to support positions he's now against."

And Bauman says what many Republicans resented about Anderson was that while he was Republican conference chairman in the House, "he'd be on talk shows giving positions that were not his party's position."

Bauman says that Illinois Republicans who have sent Anderson back for 10 terms were beginning to catch on to his new-found liberalism and wouldn't have elected him any more than the Repulicans would have voted him in again as conference chairman if he hadn't quit. Though Anderson says he doesn't want it, Bauman thinks he's interested in the vice presidency, but that's a long shot too.

"I think he's tired of Congress, frustrated, out of step with his own party. He might have lost, and he sees greener pastures on the other side. By running for president he can go out in a blaze of glory. But there's no chance he can win. Harold Stassen has a better chance."

Yet Anderson's voting record has made him the middle-of-the-road candidate, acceptable to many Republicans who aren't completely hard-line, and to Democrats who are disappointed in Carter and Kennedy.

He is a fiscal conservative on the one hand, on the other has supported the Equal Rights Amendment, abortion, SALT II and the Panama Canal treaties, and he is against the MX missile and the B1 bomber.

He was one of the first Republicans in the House to criticize Richard Nixon during Watergate. He has made both Republicans and Democrats nervous by his proposal of a 50-cents-per-gallon gasoline tax, to be offset by a 50-percent cut in Social Security taxes. This is an election year.

His clarity of purpose which appeals to so many voters leaves many of those who are solidly committed to one side of the aisle or the other somewhat confused and not a few Republicans outraged, particularly by the fact that they consider that Anderson is rapidly becoming the anointed candidate of the eastern liberal establishment media.

He looks like a Republican and surrounds himself with aides who look like Young Republicans. Yet the words that come out of his mouth, politically, just don't sound like a Republican.

"Realistically," says Anderson, "It was a very long-shot proposition. It had to be a difficult thing. But I have from the outset felt that 1980 was going to be an unusual year and there are some incipient signs that Reagan may not be the totally overshadowing Olympian figure. All of that has given me a much better feeling about our chances."

It does take a rather large ego for someone to think he should be president, and Anderson does not disagree. "It's not a tiny one," he will say. "Let's say it's presidential.Anyone who's been in political life as long as I have, who has enjoyed the smell of the greasepaint, the roar of the crowd, would have to have some degree of egotism." But, he notes, "when a man's ambition is so intense it mutes his voice, that's not worth doing. I don't want to sound like I'm looking down from Mount Olympus, but the people see through us, through our tactics. I still believe they respect you for being genuinely true to your own convictions rather than have you court their favor." g

One gets the feeling that Anderson would not be all that discouraged to lose though he does genuinely seem to want to be president. In fact, one gets the feeling that Anderson is not the type to get discouraged in general. He can't think of the most discouraging thing that ever happened to him. He pauses for a long time. "I don't want this long pause to indicate that I've never been discouraged," he says finally. "Should I tell you about some blighted romance before I met Keke? No, I'm afriad it was not in the affairs of the heart . . . I haven't lost an election. I'm not like Jimmy Carter in that I wouldn't cry upon losing the governorship. I haven't gotten kicked out of school, I never got court-martialed in the Army, I married the woman I loved. I guess my most discouraging moment is yet to come."

"We don't get discouraged easily," says Keke Anderson. "When I was growing up I didn't come home and say did I have a good day, was I happy? Now people think every day has to be happy, that they have to be fulfilled."

"With me you have learned," he laughs.

"Now," she says, "it's become almost an obession. You have to experience your feelings."

"We have developed higher expectations of what life is supposed to produce," he says.

"Then," she says, "when it doesn't come you take it as a personal disappointment."

This brings the subject around to the woman's role. John Anderson's experience has been to live with a woman who is a wife, mother, helpmate. Yet he supports the ERA, abortion and women's rights in general. He calls women reporters "girls" and goes to men-only clubs to campaign, yet there is no sense when talking to him that he even understands the word discrimination.

Interestingly, though Keke Anderson has lived out her life in the traditional woman's role, she is much more thoughtful on the subject.

"I'm very much for the women's movement," she says. "But I have been disturbed that to make the gains, somehow it gave the housewife who enjoyed what she was doing the idea that it wasn't of worth. Women should have a choice of wanting to be homemakers without a stigma. I enjoy being in the home. I really haven't been stuck. I haven't felt it [the stigma] but I've had my son say, 'Why don't you go back to school? You don't have anything to do.' He says, 'When I get married my wife's going to have a job.' Today, because of the economic situation, it's almost a necessity to have two people working. I don't have help. No maid."

"Ah," says Anderson, jumping up from his seat and prancing around the room in a most uncharacteristic way, "but today we have Lemon Pledge and the little fairy who dusts around the room."

She stares him down and he sits back in his seat, chastised.

In terms of the political power within the home, Anderson admits that "there are some situations in which she has enormous strength and other areas where I have strength." He glances at her. "You're smiling that Mona Lisa smile. I think there are some areas of life where your intuition is b etter."

"Superior," she says.

"Areas where you're more knowledgeable," he continues without missing a beat. "Knowledge is power. Power is strength. And other areas where I have more knowledge . . ."

She just keeps looking at him.

"i'm not saying anything," she says, smiling.

"Whatever you say, sweetheart." A Great Party

Candidate Anderson is standing on a cardboard box now, addressing the New York crowd. They listen silently to him through a cloud of cigarette smoke.

In his deep booming voice, he speaks to them of a "hunger for genuine direction," then explains that he is "shying away from the word leadership, so often used in a specious, narrow and meaningless way." He tells them that he has concluded as a candidate that you cannot be all things to all men and women. He invokes the name of Adlai Stevenson, repeating to his listeners what has become his favorite campaign theme . . . "The trouble in this country is that by the time a man gets the nomination for the presidency he no longer deserves it."

And he quotes former Common Cause head John Gardner: "We have become a nation of parts warring against the whole," and alludes to Franklin D. Roosevelt, saying that "not since FDR have we had a coherent public philosophy."

The crowd appluads, then turns back to its frenzied chatter as soon as he has finished speaking and has made his pitch. "Joe Kennedy once said that to elect a president you need three things. Money, money and money."

He has made a nice talk, solid, responsible, steady, reassuring, intelligent. And has raised over $7,000. But the event has already begun to overshadow him.They were not really there to hear John Anderson as much as they were there for "it" . . . to find an alternative. And it just so happened that John Anderson had emerged after the Iowa debate to fuel their fantasies, a potential answer to everyone's discontent.

As the din subsides and the candidate prepares to leave virtually unnoticed, people are commenting with excited surprise on what a great turnout it has been, what fun to see so many people one knows.

"Yes," replies one guest. "It's a great party. If you're a Democrat."