When George McGovern says, "I'm always 10 or 15 points behind, always chasing somebody, wouldn't know how it would feel to look over my shoulder at the pack in back of me, and this way I always know where my competitors are". . . Well, that's about like that other famous poormouther, Alabama Coach Bear Bryant, when he swears his team couldn't win a tiddlywinks match.

McGovern is running, in the June primary out in South Dakota, and last night, at a fund-raiser hosted in absentia by Sargent and Eunice Shriver at the Capitol Hill Monocle Restaurant, he finally admitted he thought he'd do "OK" and that the party had raised almost $50,000, even without the famous hosts.

Reminding the sippers and munchers that Shriver was his running mate in the 1972 presidential race, McGovern explained his absence: A local doctor had not been pleased with a routine physical and had sent Shriver off to New York for tests.

"But we've just gotten a call that everything is all right and dear Sarge has been given a clean bill of health," he said.

The senator recalled Ill. Sen. Paul Douglas, who, he said, "came to Washington with a strong sense of wanting to save the world. By his second election, Douglas had decided to save just the United States, and by the third go-round, had narrowed it down to simply saving the state of Illinois. On his final bid Douglas admitted, 'Tonight I will pledge to save the Indiana sand dunes.'"

"So," McGovern concluded, "I've decided I will be doing well if I just save the Milwaukee Railroad and the farmers of my state."

About 200 well-wishers attended the cocktail fundraiser, most of them in business clothes. Some came straight from work, like Sens. Dale Bumpers (D-Ark.) and Lawton Chiles (D-Fla.) who walked down from a late session on the Hill. Other loyal McGovernites flew in from the Virgin Islands, like the Henry Kimelmans and Mrs. Bob Rosenthal.

The guests by and large avoided discussing presidential politics as they chatted and ate away at the lavish turkey and ham buffet. With one notable exception: Joseph Rauh, longtime ADA leader and civil rights lawyer, who proclaimed:

"You won't say who you're going to vote for for president, but I'm the only guy in the whole room who had enough guts to wear his Kennedy button." And wearing it he was, blue and white and almost as big as his bow tie.

But, of course, the main $500 check writers were the lobbyists, the consultants and the political activists, people like Mike McLeod, former staff director of the Senate Agriculture committee, now representing the Chicago Mercantile Interests and the Chicago Board of Trade, and Joe Miller of the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association.