In nine days Bob Hope will be 80. (Or about 20 years younger than Milton Berle's act.)

Maestro, if you will . . . :

"Eighty? Eighty just means that you're going steady with your electric blanket. Eighty just means that your favorite food is prune souffle'. Eighty just means that when you get up in the morning you turn on your Mixmaster--and hang on until your heart gets started."

Can we get a rim shot, please?

Yesterday there was a Senate reception celebrating Hope's birthday, honoring his career and thanking him for the memories. Hope is in Washington to tape his birthday special at the Kennedy Center for airing on May 23, and yesterday a Senate resolution called him "a part of American folklore . . . a genuine hero." After listening to Sen. Henry Jackson (D-Wash.) read the resolution, Hope, whose joke file is more massive than the national debt, swung into some political material: "Five years ago the House honored me when I turned 75. That's five years between honors--I wanna tell ya, that's a long time to be stuck in committee . . . Yeah, this is great, just great, a great thrill for me--a comedian being honored by his peers . . . But hey, it's wonderful to be here. I love Washington. I was walking through the Smithsonian this morning, and I don't want to say that I'm old, but somebody tried to grab me and stuff me in a glass cage--and what bothered me was that it was Claude Pepper . . . You know, being in Washington is a great opportunity for me. I'm gonna go see the IRS. I don't understand those guys; they're trying to prove that my relatives aren't an organized charity."

Rim shots. Please.

Hope's Senate tour began at 11:15 yesterday morning, when he arrived at Jackson's office in the Hart Building. A small crowd of Senate staffers awaited him, including Perry Cain, a 22-year-old intern to Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.). Two weeks ago Cain had been graduated from Oral Roberts University, and Hope had spoken at the commencement. "I just wanted to thank him," Cain said. "He was really funny. He kidded Oral. He said, 'The only thing Oral really feared was getting hit by a motorboat on his morning walk.' " Jackson's staffers had hung a sign in the window--Happy Birthday, Bob Hope. Welcome to the Senate. (Signed) Scoop's Troops. The word "troops," of course, is a reminder that Hope is well known for his USO Christmas tours, entertaining American soldiers overseas. From 1948 through 1972 Hope made 24 such tours; "Where there's strife, there's Hope" might be an appropriate slogan for that phase of Hope's career.

From Jackson's office, Hope went to a Senate luncheon, and from there to the floor of the Senate, where his entrance was met by a spontaneous burst of applause from the 150 or so people seated in the gallery. With the casual elegance of a man used to spending a lifetime of his waking hours playing to a crowd, Hope worked the room like a master politician, shaking hands, exchanging pleasantries. He seemed almost regal walking among them. Standing next to Hope, even Vice President Bush looked like an insurance salesman. There are stars and there are stars; 100 senators, but only one Bob Hope.

Later, after the resolution had been read, the birthday cake cut and the champagne poured, and Hope was getting ready to leave, he was approached by Sen. Max Baucus, who introduced himself respectfully and asked if Hope would please autograph a piece of paper for his 6-year-old son. It is so often the other way around, someone asking Baucus for his autograph; he could not remember the last time he had asked for someone else's autograph, but he did it eagerly and with profound admiration for a man who had given so much joy to the world. "Bob Hope is a very special man," Baucus said. "He plays to the better side of human nature. It's an honor for me to get his autograph for my son." The old "for my son" gambit, eh? The Democrat from Montana held up his hands. "For my son," he said. "Honest."

It was just beginning to rain as Hope left the Senate for the limo that would take him to rehearsal at the Kennedy Center. Time for one brief question. Had Hope ever seriously considered running for office himself?

"Yeah," Hope said, "about 20 or 22 years ago. It's a long story, but to be brief, I was in Seattle at the time, and there was this radio poll that showed that something like 81 percent of the people asked said they'd vote for me for president. Some people I knew were talking to me about it."

For president?

"For president. But it would have required a constitutional amendment. I was born in England."

You actually thought about running for president?

"For about 10 minutes I did."

Rim shot. Exit, stage right.