It is Tuesday night in Illinois -- the land of broken dreams. The political landscape is littered with losers who once hoped that the White House was something more than a mirage.

Ted Kennedy, the invincible of six months ago, pelted with jeers in Chicago's St. Patrick's Day parade, held out with a touch of wistful grace. He spoke of the Irish belief in shamrocks. Referring to his green shamrock-shaped pamphlets that showered down on Chicago's voters Kennedy said, "You get a few wishes with those."

Wishes were not enough for the last of the Kennedy brothers, who limped out of Illinois a crushed candidate.

And Republican George Bush -- bounding into New Hampshire out of wins a Iowa and Puerto Rico barely a month ago with that erstwhile companion Big Mo (as in momentum) by his side -- was a forgotten man hardly even mentioned by TV newscasters. Illinois was going to be the place to trounce Reagan, went Bush's scenario a month ago. Bush instead got a little more than 10 percent of the vote and perhaps one delegate.

Fellow travelers Connaly and Dole and Crane and Baker, felled by the pitfalls and potholes of the primary trail, were long gone.

If somebody were fantasizing a scenario for 1980, no one could have predicted that a Kennedy would have been trounced in Cook County, that big guns like Baker and Connally would be out before Bush and that John Anderson would have survived this far. In fact the campaign has had a surreal touch, like a videotape in fast forward, as alternatives to front-runners have risen and fallen as quickly as Italian governments. It is the campaign of the Instant Heartbreak.

Only John B. Anderson -- the latest meteroic challenger -- remained. But he finished 11 points behind that old durable Ronald Reagan, who took a firm grip on the Republican nomination. True-blue Republican conservatives flocked to their man, as well as many independents categorized by one Chicago political observer as the old Daley supporter type -- ethnic, blue-collar, Catholic, pro-life and conservative.

Tuesday night Anderson -- the king of the crossover vote -- paraphrased Shakespeare ("Now is the winter of America's discontent") and spoke of Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and Victor Hugo. Facing the cameras, he defiantly resisted calling it a Reagin win. "We've just begun to fight," he said, vowing to go the distance to California. But that is a winner-take-all, non-crossover state where Anderson's only hope is to mount a massive re-registration of Democrats in the next few weeks.

Anderson keeps saying no but the political talk is more and more of a three-man race in November -- Carter, Reagan and a third-party Anderson. His supporters stomped and cheered enthusiastically when Anderson seemed to at least open that door: "What does it matter," he asked, "if an idea is liberal or conservative as long as it really makes sense?!"

Meanwhile, George Bush, out of the state campaigning in Wisconsin, reeled through a gantlet of reporters like a punch-drunk fighter, a set half-smile on his face. Bush had campaigned largely on his resume as "the man you won't have to train," but out of sheer desperation, he had finally resorted to issues.

There would be no "post-game analysis" from him he warned, turning away the press. "I'm going to speak only to the issues."

This year's unusually volatile electorate, in its fickle search for fresh faces, has sent candidates on a roller-coaster ride. In a year of extreme economic upheaval and foreign crises, the voters, yearning for alternatives, have been shifting their allegiance of a dizzying pace, but wherever it goes, the support seems soft.

Last fall, John Connally -- remember him -- was supposed to be the Republican for this season. Reagan was just too old. And so moderate and liberal Republicans started playing the ABCs of politics -- Anybody But Connally. Meanwhile the ABCs of Democratic politics were beginning -- the murmurings of Anybody But Carter. The negative on Carter, compounded by the stronger negatives on Kennedy, made a look to Republicans possible for some Democrats.

For a fleeting moment Bush was the beneficiary of all this. He had campaigned a staggering 329 days last year, he had a lot of money and one of the best-organized campaigns.He tried to follow Carter's script of 1976 of being all things to all people but that script wasn't playing. For one thing, Bush had more of a national record to examine than Carter, and his moderate to liberal support soon faded when it was realized that he had been a Goldwater conservative who opposed Civil Rights legislation, denounced the nuclear test ban treaty and said he might favor the limited use of nuclear weapons in Vietnam. Although the perception of Bush as a conservative grew, the regulars decided to stick with a tried-and-true conservative: Reagan.

In Illinois he was also hurt by a slide in other states and by the fact that he continued to use his ad about his past service as CIA director and U.N. ambassador.

One former Bush supporter at Anderson headquarters Tuesday night said, "I saw his TV ads all about hiscoming out of a submarine as a WWII war here and I thought what the hell does that have to do with being a good president?'

Asterisk One, Bush's charter plane, went the way of Big Mo and so six planes of assorted shapes and sizes (including one vintage twin-engine whose seat broke when a reporter leaned back on it) descended on to Peoria's runway to Monday afternoon. Earlier in the week, Reagan was greeted by bands, balloons and a huge crowd. Bush was greeted by a handful of freezing supporters and reporters asking him if he'd bow out after Illinois. But there is some good fortune in not being the front-runner. Reagan was presented with a live pig. Bush didn't get the pig.

In his last speeches of this primary, Bush belatedly tried to position himself as the centrist alternative between Reagan on the right and Anderson on the left. He was not for Anderson's 50-cent gas tax. Like Anderson, but not Reagan, he was for the ERA -- but not for extension of ratification, as is Anderson. Bush wants to cut taxes, but not as massively as Reagan. Unlike Anderson, he is against federal funding for abortion, but, unlike Reagan, he is against a constitutional amendment banning abortion. bBush would beef up the military, unlike Anderson, but he slams as extreme measures such Reagan talk as blockading Cuba, "which would take the whole Atlantic fleet."

The generalized rhetoric was still there ("I don't mind being where the heartbeat of America is") but Bush's performance was a low-keyed respite from his gee-whiz, arm-flailing front-runner days when Bush shouted, "I'm UP for the '80s!" And said he was an optimist who thought the glass was "half full -- not half empty."

Even Bush would have to call some of the auditoriums he spoke in these days half empty.

On his way to his last stop of the primary, a rally in Wheaton, Bush talked of his breathtaking glide from being an unknown to the glory trail and back down again. Earlier in the day, Bush complained that he was somehow a victim of the press who couldnot control the situation. "They want me to do it all the time, what this election means every Tuesday. I fell into a trap of continually talking and helping them analyze the political situation; what happened to me. In the process, some of my opponents were saying, 'He doesn't talk about the issues.'"

Now in the car, his face etched with fatigue and worry lines, he continued that theme. "I vowed not to go discussing all this. I got accused of talking about just going forward or just going back."

Bush was asked if the fact that he would not make himself available to the press Tuesday night would be perceived as ducking in defeat. Bush said that he wouldn't be available even if he won. "Some may say it. If somebody wants to write that, fine. I couldn't care less," he said looking out the window.

Bush talked often in the old days about having momentum or, as he tagged it, Big Mo. "It was something catchy and the press kept asking about it -- and gloating when it wasn't there. And when I won in Massachusetts, then somebody else wins. So I get tired of that." He says he's not interested in being vice president. "I keep my sights on what I'm doing. Focus on that, discuss nothing else."

He is clearly smarting from the way he felt he was treated by the press. Asked what lessons he had learned, he said that he would have talked more specifically on the issues and should have kept "the long perspective, and recognized the fickle nature of some observers. How would you like to read that you peaked on the day you announced?"

There is more than a tinge of anger about his nemesis, Anderson. "He's gotten a hell of a big ride out of coming in second to me in Massachusetts." And of Reagan before his big Illinois win: "He's strong," said Bush, adding tersely, "let's face it."

Anderson quotes from Victor Hugo; Bush, who sprinkles his speeches with sports references, borrows from Bullets basketball coach Dick Motta: "The opera is not over 'til the fat lady sings." Bush tells his audience that "she hasn't sung yet. She will, in Detroit (at the Republican convention) and I'll be there. I'm in this for the long haul." Still, in a private interview one catches the nuances of doubt.

Bush said that today he will be in Connecticut -- "another primary." It is a crucial primary for him. There is a long pause. "The following Thursday? . . . I don't know." A longer pause. "One bridge at a time."

Bush's decline coincided with the now famous Nashua debate in New Hampshire where he wanted so fiercely to go one-on-one with Ronald Reagan that Bush didn't bend with the tide when he saw he was being pulled into a plan to include the other Republican candidates. Instead he sat there, vowing to "abide by the rules" as the others stalked off the stage. Reagan looked like the good guy in the white hat and electrified the crowd with his "I paid for this microphone" speech.

At a recent Gridiron Club dinner, Bush gracefully and hilariously made fun of himself and that episode but he does look back on it as a crucial mistake, "Sure I wish I could have done it better." In that split second when they all trooped in what if he had simply invited them to pull up chairs? The answer comes painfully. "Yeah, I could have done it differently." The voice is so low that you can barely catch the answer. "I wish I had."

While this year's primary debates have not exactly delineated specifies on issues, they have struck decisive impressionistic chords with last-minute voters. In the Illinois debate all the other Republican candidates jumped on Anderson for not being loyal to the party and for not saying he would support the Republican nominee. Anderson, to some viewers, came off too preachy in his self-defense, while Bush, it was felt, came off desperate and strident and whiney. Once again, that threatrical pro from Hollywood, Ronny Reagan, came off best.

Just as in New Hampshire, a large number of undecided voters made up their minds for Reagan in the closing hours. Anderson's pollster, Dick Bennett, said that his candidate "lost eight points to Reagan -- bang -- because of the debate." Bennett said that unquestionably party loyalty was a factor in his slippage. Bush took out ads slamming Anderson, who eventually ended up saying, as the issue trailed him all week, that if Reagan moderated his views he could support him.

"Anderson shouldn't lecture me about bringing people into the party," said Bush as he drove toward Wheaton. "You don't fractionate a minority party in order to make a majority party." Asked if he thought he had been too strident, Bush said, "I don't agree. Some might think so. Some say 'You're not tough enough,' some say 'You're too strident.' Well, to hell with it."

In this volatile year, there is also the impression that Anderson -- the latest beneficiary of the dissatisfied voter who cannot imagine backing either Reagan or Carter -- has soft support. This is in part because many of his supporters can count -- Reagan has won most of the delegates. Primaries are not set up for late bloomers and they realize how unorganized Anderson is in many remaining primaries, how he is not even on the ballot in Pennsylvania, and they see no hope of stopping Reagan.

Moreover, a negative that is getting stronger is the perception of a growing self-righteousness in their candidate. One youth volunteer who had trailed Anderson from New Hampshire's dingy headquarters to the sparkling, shiny ballroom of Chicago, a fervent follower if there ever was one, said nevertheless: "Sometimes when I hear Anderson I feel like saying, 'Okay, enough's enough.'" Referring to Anderson's stern admonitions the man said, "It's like thinking, 'Oh, dad, let up!'"

For some, that personality negative is outweighed by a belief that Anderson is right on the issues. Ironically, there was some indication at the Anderson headquarters as time ran out in this campaign that Anderson was broadening his appeal. There were the typical Anderson Democratic converts, such as three women from Oak Forest, and a handsome young couple, both Chicago stockbrokers, who gave a detailed analysis on why Anderson's economic positions are the best.

In some areas Anderson and Bush dipped into the same pool of support. "The demographics in our suburb are very similar to George Bush's background," said bank manager Frank Steinmetz. "I think the Bush people expected everyone to flock to him and it just didn't happen. Two weeks before a primary are crucial and a lot waited to see what was happening. After the New Hampshire returns came in things were different here for Bush. Except for the strong Reagan supporters, the rest were very amorphous."

But among the women with their Louis Vuitton bags and the men in their tweeds and striped suits, there were others. One man who owned a small printing business said he started reading about Anderson and thought he had the right answers. And nearby an engineer wearing a windbreaker, with a comb and an eye glass case clipped to his shirt, seemed conspicuously out of place.

"You buy me a beer, and I'll give you a beautiful interview," he said. That transaction accomplished, the man said that Reagan "scares me and is a little too old. Bush is too unknown. I would have said that about Anderson except I listened and I like the man."

Asked if there was any particular stance that swayed him he said, surprisingly, "I'm a gun owner -- and I like what he says about gun owners." Anderson was roundly heckled at a convention of gun owners in New Hampshire for saying he favored licensing of handguns.

But "we're not all gun nuts," said the man standing at Anderson's party. "He's the only man I heard say something -- and I'm afraid he's gonna lose. This is the first time I ever came down for one of these things. First time I ever got excited enough to do something." His name is Wayne Anderson, no relation. But with a smile he said of his support, "I think that's a little bit of it too."

In the days before Illinois, success had come to Anderson's campaign. At one time he was leading Reagan. Money was pouring in. For election night, his supporters rented a large balalroom in one of Chicago's newest hotels. Red, white and blue bunting, lavish trappings of victory, and a picture of Anderson decorated the room. There was a whole bank of telephones for reporters now. No need to race for the pay phones on deadline as in Massachusetts. But there was no joy as the grim-faced faithful watched the returns blaring a Reagan victory.

Michael MacLeod, a lean Anderson aide in a pin-striped suit, smoked a cigarillo. As an eager photographer came up to ask about a photo opportunity of Anderson, MacLeod quipped, "If these predictions hold up you can get a great shot of me plummeting out of the 44th-floor window."

Anderson came on with his wife and five children and spoke of the need for hope, to be resourceful and resilient. "Politics is more than just a game of winning and losing. Instead it is a chance for an honest effort to chart a new course for the nation. Now is not the time to take refuge in tired old partisan rhetoric," he intoned. "The old ideas are not adequate to the energy and economic crises. The old problems simply cry out for new answers."

For all of that the name of the game is still garnerng the delegates. Anderson is fighting time and, in the Republican party, tradition, hoping that enough people will catch his message as the days dwindle down. In a parting and not so oblique shot at Reagan Anderson said, "We need to be looking, not to the 19th century -- but to the 21st century." Then quoting from his favorite president and fellow Illinoisan, Abraham Lincoln: "The dogmas of the quiet past are not adequate to the stormy present."