All you need to do is see his chin.

You do not need to know that Pete du Pont grew up in a house that had a name instead of a street number. Or that the immediate family kept cocker spaniels and summered on Fishers Island, and the extended family teaches thrift to its teen-aged millionaires and never touches principal. You do not need to know that he went to Exeter, Princeton and Harvard Law School, or even that he has sailed in both Olympic and America's Cup trials.

To know that he is the apotheosis of prep, you need only see the chin, which moves with the laborious dignity of a backhoe. Or perhaps to gaze on what one writer has called "that vast, unnamed space between the upper lip and nose." The nose itself is big, strong, but straight as string, and the planes of his long, long face might be whittled of wood: cedar, or teak -- some nice, warm wood such as they use in the making of yachts.

Pierre Samuel du Pont IV has such a sheen of privilege that Greenwich-bred George Bush was able to score points off him in debate simply by using his given name. A little more than 50 years ago, Franklin D. Roosevelt made political hay by denouncing du Ponts as "our resplendent economic aristocracy," intent on "power for themselves, enslavement for the public." But now, in a year when millionaire Republican front-runners Bush and Bob Dole are mud-wrestling over whose roots are more proletarian, du Pont makes little effort to seem other than what he is -- rich, comfy, dispassionately ambitious and regally nice.

A three-term congressman and, more recently, two-term governor of Delaware, the 53-year-old du Pont has been officially running for president longer than any of his dozen rivals. Concentrating his efforts in the early states of Iowa and New Hampshire, he has been pitching for a year and a half a blend of libertarianism and Reagan conservatism. Although he implies that "ideologue" is an unseemly word, his platform of five planks he describes as "damn right" issues places him far enough to the right to make him the favorite of Manchester Union Leader publisher Nackey Loeb.

On the stump, he is Dudley Do-Right running for Chief Mountie: a mix of goggle-eyed sincerity, crisp enthusiasm and slightly goofy charm. But so far, he has failed to raise a pulse. His standings in both Iowa and New Hampshire remain little higher than most polls' margins of error. The received wisdom on Pete du Pont is that he is at best a political eccentric who has raised the quality of the debate by injecting controversy, at worst an opportunist -- an East Coast moderate in Jack Kemp clothing. Within his party he is accused of hubris, at the very least, in running against such GOP stalwarts as Bush and Dole.

His supporters counter that he is offering a strong record as governor, a degree of executive experience du Pont claims is absent in "the vice president, the senator, the congressman, the general and the preacher."

But that is not his chief singularity. What truly sets him apart is his belief that he needs the voters less than they need him. In the words of Glenn Kenton, a longtime aide who is now his campaign chairman, "A long, complicated, arduous climb to be president is not for Pete du Pont. He doesn't need it."

If he is not the only politician in America who feels this way, he is surely the only one unwise enough to let it show.

His third event of the day is in Belle Plaine, outside Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and he gets a warm ovation. There has been a mock caucus held here, and du Pont won the Republican "nomination" handily. He tells the cheering audience, "That's the best reception I've had anywhere in Iowa."

Unfortunately, he is standing in a school gymnasium, and the median age of his audience is about 12. Worse still, his statement may be literally true.

Yet time after time, he wades gamely into his speech. His voice -- tenor, with a slightly sibilant "s" -- is several degrees more casual than Locust Valley Lockjaw, but still has the telltale long vowels. The dead giveaway is any mention of his wife Elise, whose name is pronounced Aay-leez. At times he comes close to the speech of regular folks: injecting little expressions like "y'know," eliding words so he says "ya" and "gotta."

He has a deadpan sense of humor that sometimes works. As he is soberly launching into a speech before a group of Cedar Rapids farm lenders, the enormous campaign poster behind him peels itself lazily off the wall and falls to the floor. "Our campaign's a little different -- " he has begun, and without missing a beat he observes, "Maybe it's over! You know, you'd think from a company that makes glue we could do a little better."

But even as he's warming up to the self-deprecating mode in which he is most comfortable, he has the air of someone who has worked hard to teach himself to speak this way, to masses of people. He speaks as if he is conscious of his commas, and as if he counts silently to himself between statements to give them punch: "You say George Bush and Bob Dole have promised to keep your Social Security system safe into the next century? {One Mississippi. Two Mississippi.} Oh {comma} they've promised {comma} all right."

He does far better in small groups, where he can talk to people one on one.

Take the basement of Bauman's Men's Store, on First Street in Mount Vernon. Here, amid unvarnished shelves stocked with flannel shirts, anywhere from a handful to 40 men -- mostly retirees -- meet for coffee every morning. Today there are nine who, accustomed to visits from candidates and reporters on the prowl for average Iowans, are hamming it up like so many Bartleses & Jaymeses.

Pete du Pont is sharing their joke.

On hearing du Pont's proposal to augment the Social Security system with a private investment plan, one unusual retiree says, "You ought to start taxing Social Security 100 percent. We don't need all that money."

"But that's the wrong answer," says the candidate emphatically.

When the man responds with a good-natured profanity du Pont roars with laughter, and continues. He is showing that sure politician's talent for reaching out to every individual in the room and implicating each one -- with a jest, or a first name, or a question -- in his fortunes.

If there is some little spark to his campaign, it is in this zest for the hand-to-hand combat of campaigning.

"He is and always has been very sensitive to the fact that one's knee-jerk reaction to someone named Pete du Pont is going to be, 'Oh, I wonder what kind of snob this guy is,' " says Dave Swayze, a Wilmington lawyer who served in the Statehouse as du Pont's chief of staff. "That's why he's always the one to walk up to somebody rather than waiting for them to walk up to him ... He is aware of the fact that he is the one who has to constantly break down that wall."

Dynasty in Delaware Wilmington, Del., is like Disneyland, or some other such monotheistic theme park. From the Du Pont Country Club to the P.S. du Pont Elementary School, from the A.I. du Pont High School to -- of course -- the many plants of E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., the family dominates the landscape. At least three museums have sprung from du Pont houses and factories, and a map of Wilmington and surrounding New Castle County includes du Pont Avenue, du Pont Circle, du Pont Highway, du Pont Road, du Pont Street and du Pont Parkway. In the center of Wilmington, on one side of the square, is City Hall, a block wide and three stories high. Opposite it, 10 stories taller and dwarfing it from a small rise, is the Du Pont Building.

This was, for a long time, a fair metaphor for the affairs of Wilmington -- perhaps even of Delaware. In the flu epidemic of 1918, according to family biographer Leonard Mosley, the Du Pont Co. carefully calculated how many citizens of Wilmington, as well as how many employees, were likely to die, and efficiently ordered enough coffins to go around.

The original Pierre Samuel du Pont was a wealthy Huguenot royalist who, after twice evading the guillotine, fled France for the New World, arriving on the first day of the 19th century. It was his son, Eleuthe`re Irene'e du Pont, who founded E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. two years later to manufacture gunpowder on the banks of the Brandywine Creek.

For almost a century and a half, the family and the company were one and the same. In the last few decades, family control has slipped away, the fortune -- like the limelight -- dispersed among nearly 2,000 living du Ponts. Pete du Pont, inheritor of the founding name (through his father and great-uncle, the man who began to change the company from a munitions firm to the chemical giant it would become), is one of the few who are famous in their own right. With assets in the neighborhood of $7.8 million, including the value of future income from three trusts, he is not the richest du Pont, and not the poorest.

He wears his status easily. He is proud of what he calls "the family business," where he worked for six years before entering politics, and where one of his sons works today. On the stump he plays down this background. But most of his stabs at muting his family history seem less the result of political calculation than of his genteel horror of boasting.

Politics and Privilege Asked if du Pont's life has been marred by any awful events, a longtime associate says, "I'm aware of nothing unpleasant that's happened, let alone awful."

They say about Pete du Pont nothing that is surprising for his time and station. "Petey" was mad about games and gifted at sports. He was shy. "I think we probably all are in our family -- I guess reserved more than shy," says his sister Dedo Kidd.

Both his sisters remember being constantly organized into play. The younger sister, Miche`le Goss, remembers, "We used to have a marble checked floor at home, and we used to play human checkers on it."

Several of du Pont's associates have the impression that Pierre S. du Pont III and Jane Holcomb du Pont were stern parents. Dedo Kidd responds, "Stern? That's just such a terrible word ... I would say much more that I had a definite sense of values. We were -- there were ways that one behaved in life, and ways that one didn't."

Du Pont studied engineering at Princeton and married well: to the beautiful Elise Ravenel Wood, a Bryn Mawr student who came from Wawa, Pa. -- another, if lesser, theme park; her family owns Wawa dairies.

After college, du Pont joined the Navy, where he got interested in law. Posted at the Brunswick Naval Air Station in Maine, "I took my turn along with the other officers in prosecuting and defending minor cases under the military justice system ... And I kinda liked it." At Harvard Law he excelled academically for the first time, and won the Ames Moot Court Competition his final year. Up to that point his grades had been "Bs and Cs, and even some Ds. And a couple of Es, too, actually. You know, my motivation has increased with age. It's as simple as that."

But after graduation, he went back to the family shop. "I thought, you know, here is a family business that's been going for a century and a half. Um, I'd kind of like to be a part of that." He worked first in marketing, and then in quality control, as the company unsuccessfully tried to manufacture the first chromium dioxide audio tape.

"But then," he continues, "you begin to realize that in an enormous company -- and I had lots of good opportunities there, but in an enormous company like that, the chance of being in charge and leading really is 30 years away. That's a long horizon."

So he went into politics, hitherto the province of a very few lesser du Ponts. By all reports, his father -- an executive vice president of Du Pont -- was disappointed, but supportive. Miche`le Goss says of the reaction: "I mean, {politics} had a reputation for being a kind of a dirty business. Sort of like being an actor, three generations ago -- I mean, lots of people didn't do it."

He was unopposed for his first elective post -- a new seat in the Delaware House of Representatives serving his home territory, which is known without irony as "chateau country."

But two years later, when he ran for Delaware's only congressional seat, his name was more a liability than a strength. Moreover, two other longtime Republican officeholders wanted the job. But this is where du Pont first showed his flair for retail politics. Says Kenton, "He did it one on one for month after month after month after month," wooing the 600 Republican activists who were potential delegates to the state convention. Du Pont charted their opinions on a legal pad, tracking from week to week all 600 on a scale from 1 (a supporter) to 5 (a confirmed opponent). He got the nomination by two-thirds, and won the general election handily.

The plan next was to serve a term in Congress, then run for the Senate seat of retiring Republican Caleb Boggs. But Boggs failed to retire, and got beaten by an upstart Democrat named Joe Biden. Du Pont has toyed more than once with the thought of challenging him, but decided in 1976 to run for governor.

A little research turned up the fact that no one had served two consecutive terms as governor in 25 years; the job was a political sinkhole. Delaware was in trouble, with 9 percent unemployment, a staggering debt and one of the lowest bond ratings in the country. "So," according to du Pont, "we took the attitude, well, you know, if we're not going to get reelected anyhow, maybe we just ought to go into office and really do what needs to be done and straighten the place out. And so we did, and lo and behold got 71 percent of the vote the next time around. And there's a moral in there somewhere, that if you do the right thing it'll work."

The right thing, in this case, was to drastically cut spending and taxes, aggressively pursuing new business -- especially banking -- through tax incentives and deregulation.

Du Pont claims that he brought on a 20 percent increase in Delaware jobs and cut personal income taxes by 42 percent. Democratic legislators, while pointing out that du Pont's "miracle" coincided with improvements in the national economy, nonetheless give him credit for managing the turnaround. In the process, says former du Pont aide Austin P. Olney, Delaware "went from being run like a badly run grocery store to an efficient business."

Du Pont describes it as the formative experience of his political life. "Other than getting married and so forth, being governor was the best life decision that I've ever made."

In 1982, two years before the end of his tenure -- the state constitution prevents a third term -- he began to think of running for president.

The Consistent Calm Asked what matters to Pete du Pont, his friends mention his affection for song and soft-shoe, his talent for juggling and card tricks, his unexpected hobby: painting. They note that he is a family man, devoted to his four children, Elise, Pierre, Ben and Eleuthe`re.

Pressed for more, they seem puzzled. What's to wonder about?

"I think there are some people as they grow up who do a lot of changing," says du Pont's sister Dedo Kidd. "And then there are some who are pretty much the same person all through their life, and don't have any great periods of crisis or great spurts of growth -- they pretty much grow along evenly. He's had a very even sort of a life."

Du Pont's is a tradition in which it is as gauche to talk about your intellectual capital as to talk about the kind you have in bonds. About a book he's reading, he says, "It's got a lot of footnotes; that's heavy going. My wife is a great biography reader; she reads things that I could never get through." It is this kind of thing that gives him a slightly Bertie Wooster air -- or the air of Bertie's nicer, rather slower friend.

He is, in fact, smarter and more subtle than this; witness his performance on his feet, in political debate. How much smarter, how much more subtle, is very tough to ascertain.

"I don't think there's much more {to Pete} than what you've seen," says his wife Elise. "I think he's a very uncomplicated, straightforward person. He does not harbor grudges. I have never seen him lose his temper. I have never seen him swear."

"One can, if one knows him, pretty much gauge how he's going to react, or what he's going to do in any given situation," says Dave Swayze.

What it all boils down to, Swayze says, is that "Pete du Pont is, first and foremost, in terms of his education and training, an engineer. He thinks like an engineer, and his approach to problem-solving is that of an engineer."

Impressions of Pete du Pont are, in short, so consistent as to be almost freaky, and this quality -- what Bill Manning, another former chief of staff, calls du Pont's "appreciation for straight lines" -- is at least half of the answer to what makes the candidate run.

Austin Olney gives the best description of the du Pont method. "I raced with him on a couple of occasions on small boats ... I've never sailed with anyone who goes about getting a boat ready more methodically than Pete does.

"But {sailing well} is also having an ability to -- if you imagine yourself on a race course, you're on a flat plane -- people who are really good at sailing are guys who are good at stepping above the plane, as if you were in a helicopter, and seeing where they are. Pete has that. I think it's true in politics, too, the ability to step above the fray and see where you are, and see where everybody else is, and act on it."

The Conservative Candidate Du Pont is content to be seen as a manifestation of how profoundly the Reagan presidency has changed the Republican debate. "The example I always use is {that} conservative Richard Nixon, at the height of 4 percent inflation, raging inflation in America, sent conservative John Connally, secretary of the treasury, down to the House caucus to demand wage and price controls for America," he says. "And Jack Kemp and Pete du Pont and Bob Dole all voted yes. That's an absurd vote today. I don't believe any one of us would vote that way today. So the party has changed."

But du Pont's critics charge that his conservative awakening is more a matter of positioning than of conviction. In Congress, he was perceived as a moderate, "establishment" easterner -- an environmentalist whose foreign policy views placed him to the left of presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. He favored campaign spending reform, and according to a former aide, barred his door to lobbyists from Delaware industries.

Today du Pont takes a stoutly anticommunist line, touts the Strategic Defense Initiative, opposes the INF Treaty and praises the Nicaraguan contras as "freedom fighters." He pledges not to raise taxes, lambastes "socialist Democrats" and favors returning the issue of abortion to state legislatures.

When he is accused of tacking right to follow the tides, he admits to some changes in outlook, but points to his political education as governor. "Most people, particularly inside the Beltway, think that governorships don't count ... So you left out eight years."

There remains a second kind of unease about Pete du Pont. Beginning with no natural political base, his strategy has been to discuss proposals so startling that he can't be ignored. It has brought him praise for raising sensitive issues, but he is sometimes charged with having gone down to the Supermarket of Ideas and bought wholesale. One from the neo-liberals, a couple from the libertarians, a couple from the Reagan right.

His nerviest proposal -- especially in Iowa -- is to phase out all farm subsidies over five years. The other major ones are: to supplement Social Security with a voluntary system of private savings that would be bankrolled by the federal government; to provide families with education vouchers that could be applied toward the cost of any school they wanted to send their children to, public or private; to administer random drug tests to teen-agers in high school, denying driver's licenses to those who test positive; and to make all welfare recipients work for their checks.

In an otherwise admiring story in the conservative National Review, Richard Brookhiser summed up du Pont's second major stumbling block: "What du Pont has not been able to convey so far is the connection between his positions -- a sense of the vantage from which he takes them."

Du Pont has also, so far, ignored the budget deficit's dominant position in the 1988 debate. His Social Security plan, for example, would cost the Treasury at least $20 billion a year -- closer to $100 billion if most people enrolled. He is preaching, without using the phrase, unadulterated supply-side economics.

When pressed on the deficit, he says, "I'm not going to Washington to be an accountant. I'm going to Washington to create opportunity."

Above the Fray "There are two kinds of political leaders in America -- the pie slicers and the pie bakers," du Pont said some months ago. "... I would put my energies into making the pie bigger so that everyone's slice is a little bit bigger, rather than arguing over the angle of the knife that's slicing the pie."

It is not an accident that Pete du Pont sounds, here, like Jesse Jackson. At least 11 places apart on a 13-candidate political spectrum, a world apart in origins and motivation, these two candidates are perhaps the most alike in one dimension: their disdain for certain of the quotidian ways that men and women get and exercise political power.

For instance, du Pont does even more Congress-bashing than is obligatory for a Republican candidate in an era of Democratic legislatures, seeming to condemn the enterprise itself. "I won't be a legislator again. Once you've been a leader, going back to sit around a table to take little snippets from here, little snippets from there and craft a compromise, you're not going to get anything done that way ... They all sweat and they lose sleep and they've got bags under their eyes trying to get that extra quarter of a billion dollars out of some resolution that it turns out doesn't matter because the whole thing's overtaken by events? That's not doing anything!"

Which brings him around to his favorite concept: Leadership. Being team captain.

"I think it's just inculcated in him," says Elise du Pont.

"He thinks it's a lot simpler than most commentators make it out to be," says Manning. "He has the ability to see things in relatively simple terms, and to reject the kind of yammering that tries to persuade you that it's not a simple world.

"He can afford to see things simply," Manning adds, "... because he can afford the risk that the answers yielded by that kind of analysis will offend somebody."

Manning is talking, as most people eventually do, about Pete du Pont's ability to walk away from it all. "I really believe," says Manning, "that people don't want a guy who wants it too much. It certainly worked in Delaware. People had the sense that, 'Here's a guy who does not need to be the governor of Delaware,' and they elected him in record numbers."

It is, finally, that old chestnut about democracy in turmoil: America needs nothing more than a disinterested aristocrat who, having nothing personal at stake, can roll up his sleeves and make the tough choices. A guy who has the ability to "step above the fray."

Someone with a talent for human checkers.

Kenton sees the inherent catch. "I think his serenity has hurt him in the campaign," he says. "Sometimes, the messianic fervor is missing that I think you need to be a successful candidate for president. You've got to just hunger for it."

Du Pont's supporters hope that Dole will beat Bush badly in Iowa on Monday, and that Bush's supporters in New Hampshire, seeing their man's weaknesses, will flock to du Pont. They were not counting on Pat Robertson to draw away conservative voters, or on Jack Kemp's sudden recent rise in the polls. They acknowledge tacitly that if du Pont doesn't finish in the top three in New Hampshire, it's over.

Leaving Pete du Pont to get on with -- what? He is now a partner in one of Wilmington's preeminent law firms, but, Swayze says, "he has never fooled any of us into thinking he wanted to practice law."

Du Pont, whose favorite book is "The Wilderness Years," about Winston Churchill's decade out of power, shrugs. He says he'd like to find a way to continue "the approach we're talkin' about ... I'll be involved somehow." Elise du Pont says, "I can see him becoming a member of the media; I can see him writing a book; I can see him going on a lecture series. I can see him, well, I can't think of what else, but that's a fairly -- he's also got a wonderful television persona."

If he were other than Pete du Pont, he might be eyeing the vice presidency, or a Cabinet post. The obvious assumption is that he will run again in four years, or eight.

Glenn Kenton, his longest-running political associate, cautions against jumping to that conclusion.

"He's goal-oriented," says Kenton. "He wants to see the goal and see a way he can get there, on a time horizon he can see doing. Getting into politics and spending 30 years lining up your re'sume' just isn't somethingfor him. So when he decides to run for president, he's going to do it one time, put everything he's got into it, and let the chips fall where they may."

Listen again, carefully, to Pete du Pont's description of why, after six years, he decided to leave the family business:

"You begin to realize that in an enormous company -- and I had lots of good opportunities there -- but in an enormous company like that, the chance of being in charge and leading really is 30 years away. That's a long horizon."