Every leap year they come out in droves, leaving behind failed restaurants, back-water law firms, unemployment lines, Capitol Hill offices and dull think tanks to become high-rollers at the roulette wheel of presidential politics. They carry the bags for the candidate, check the sound system at rallies, listen to the woes of obscure county chairmen and grind out dull position papers. They endure 5:30 wake-up calls, 14-hour days, junk food, the incessant drone of the candidate's voice and the endless smiles and handshakes because they are fueled by the dreams of the office in the White House, the Georgetown dinner parties, the trips on Air Force One and being in the room when historic decisions are made.

As a mecca for high-stakes gamblers, a presidential campaign eclipses the Super Bowl and the Kentucky Derby combined. If their candidate wins, they become the Hamilton Jordans and Jody Powells of a new administration. If he loses, they become the stuff of trivia quizzes for political junkies. Quick, name the 1976 Wisconsin coordinator for Mo Udall.

Their calling was best described by political prankster Dick Tuck, who during Robert Kennedy's 1968 campaign had the privilege of walking the candidate's dog, Freckles. Mocked by those who did not understand the importance of these weighty responsibilities, Tuck said, "To you it may be just a dog, but to me it's an ambassadorship."

Were candidates to advertise in the help-wanted sections for campaign staffs, here's what some of the classified ads would look like:

Gentleman's gentlemen. Good breeding, a self-effacing manner and a yen to travel are all part of this opportunity-laden position. Serve as a traveling companion to prominent American political figure. A pleasant telephone voice is a necessity.

Public relations trainees. Looking for frustrated reporters tired of the city room to help shape images for a national advertising blitz. Ability to travel and work on a one-to-one basis with reporters a necessity. Should be familiar with tape recorders and the needs of television news. No heavy lifting, but lots of heavy drinking.

Telephone salesmen willing to relocate. Political experience a must. Need to quickly organize an entire territory to meet inflexible deadlines. Must know how to set up franchise operation and motivate total strangers to believe in the product. Dale Carnegie experience helpful but not required.

Cosmic thinkers. Looking for go-getter to turn abstract concepts into easily digestible two-minute answers for a slow, but determined, learner. Need familiarity with world and economic affairs.Brite writing required, especially ability to say nothing well. Opportunity knocks, this is how Henry Kissinger started.

In 1979, Republican George Bush was one of the candidates who had to fill jobs like these. Unlike Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and Ted Kennedy, who could call upon the veterans of past campaigns, Bush had to staff his operation from scratch. He scored some coups like snaring Jim Baker, President Ford's 1976 campaign manager. But below the few jobs he had to assemble a campaign staff out of tinfoil and chewing gum.

They came to Bush, despite his minuscule standing in the polls, because he was the one candidate willing to let them play at the crap tables of presidential politics. Some, like his 28-year-old traveling companion David Bates, were old family friends to whom Bush played Peter Pan and said, "Come fly away with me." Others, like press aide Bill Kenyon, were unemployed and looking for a job, any job, in Washington. Then there were the migrant laborers of politics like Iowa coordinator Rich Bond, who had spent his young life successively working for Republican candidates, digging clams on Long Island and sailing around the world. There was the startling case of deputy press secretary Susan Morrison, who was so bored with her job at the Democratic National Committee that she was willing to jump ship and work for George Bush.

Many like Bond, Morrison and Kenyon signed on without having ever talked to George Bush. That they have come to like him, and in some cases admire him, is a bonus that they couldn't count on when they rolled the dice. Few enlist in a presidential campaign because of an uncontrollable passion for the candidate. I know because I've been there. Reeling from a messy divorce, I signed on with Jimmy Carter in mid-1976 for only one reason -- the French Foreign Legion wasn't hiring.

The 1976 Carter campaign was a boisterous, brawling operation mixing Georgians desperate to make it in the North with some of the most engaging failures thrown up by a recessionary economy. Greg Schneiders, who carried Carter's bags through most of 1976, was a failed Washington bar-keep. Tim Kraft, who masterminded Carter's surprise victory in the Iowa caucuses, was an itinerant 35-year-old free spirit, seeing in Jimmy Carter one last chance for respectability. This was a campaign of all-night drinking bouts, musical motel keys, dirty shirts, glazed eyes and two-day growths of beard.

But the spear-carriers in the Bush brigade are quite different. With few exceptions, those traveling with Bush would be comfortable in any country club in the country.They are summertime sailors and former tennis coaches, not pols with pinky rings. Some are rich enough to work without pay. They are unfailingly polite, pleasant men and women, more likely to brainstorm in the coffee shop than the hotel bar. Their idiosyncrasies are invisible, as are their passions, either personal or ideological. But they are the high-stakes gamblers of 1980 who may well become the key White House aides of 1981. And this is their story: The Gentleman's Gentleman

Like rich dowagers, presidential candidates need traveling campanions. They are just too busy to carry their own attache cases, dial their own telephone numbers or write down the names of the people they talk to during factory tours. That's where fledgling Houston lawyer David Bates, who earns $12,000, comes in. He is a cross between a valet, a personal secretary and a surrogate son for George Bush.

Watch Bates at work as Bush mingles with the crowd after a speech at the Muscatine, Iowa, Holiday Inn. Bates positions himself directly behind Bush, his hand resting lightly on the small of the candidate's back, propelling him slowly forward through the sea of eager faces. A local supporter stops Bush and murmurs a few words. The candidate gestures over his shoulder at Bates and says, "Tell him, he'll remember." Bates obediently shifts his pigskin gloves to his left hand, reaches into the breast pocket of his tweed jacekt for a leather notebook and scrawls a few words. Moments later, Bush is out the door, stopping briefly in the motel room that he used before the speech, for Bates to grab the candidate's battered brown Hartmann attache case.

There is a David Bates in every campaign. When the candidate retreats to a motel room for an hour of what the official schedule calls "private time," Bates is the aide who calls the campaign office in Alexandria for messages, works out problems with the scheduler, gets the candidate's call list and then dials the numbers for Bush, as he whispers, "This is the chairman of the party in so-and-so county and you need to tell him how much you need his help."

Although he did not take any courses at the University of Texas entitled, "Presidential Bag-Carrying 101," Bates' entire background equips him to carry out these high-level tasks for George Bush. The son of a partner in Leon Jaworski's law firm -- his father died when David was 13 -- Bates has know the Bush family since he was a child. In college, he was president of his fraternity and a member of Stars and Spurs, UT's answer to Yale's Skull and Bones. Three years at the University of Houston Law School and Bates, at age 26, was all set to join a blue-chip Houston law firm in the summer of 1978; then fate, in the person of George Bush, intervened over a game of tennis in Houston.

As Bush played Pied Piper, Bates blurted out, "God, it would really be fantastic. I'd love doing it." That was 18 months ago, and meanwhile Bates' wife, Anne, whom he describes as "very self-reliant and mature," waits at home in Houston. The neglected wife is a dramatic staple in any presidential campaign and Bates plays the role of the absent husband perfectly. "At least for me," Bates said, "this has strengthened my marriage. It sounds clicheed, but I realized what I had taken for granted." m

The decision to hire Bates, more than any other decision in his campaign, reflects the personality of former Yale first baseman, former CIA director, Connecticut-Yankee-turned-Texan George Bush. Searching for words to describe Bates, Bush said, "He has class about him." Then fearful that his comment would imply breeding, Bush added, "The way a great shortstop has class," But moments later, Bush reverted to form, saying "There's a certain image about David. He'll never say the wrong thing or make the wrong impression."

The image Bates conveys is classic Texas preppy. His standard uniform, which sets the dress code for the entire campaign, is a blue blazer, gray flannel slacks, a blue button-down shirt, penny loafers and a silver belt buckle with his initials on it.

Although Bates had never done anything more political than vote for Jerry Ford in 1976, he is totally caught up in the pace of the Bush campaign. Listen to him grope for words when asked whether he would follow Bush to the White House: "That's a . . . frankly, it's not, it's not, it's not a burning desire." That out of the way, here comes Bates' real answer: "If he really did want me, if he really couldn't get by without my doing whatever he wanted me to do, I think I would do it for a limited amount of time."

In mid-January Bates was granted compassionate leave to return home to Houston and his wife to run the campaign office there for a few weeks. Taking his place on the road was Bob Thompson, the 31-year-old finance chairman of the Tulsa Republican Party whose most unforgettable policital experience was being invited to Washington for the Nixon Administration's New Majority dinner in 1972 and sitting at the same table with Rose Mary Woods.

Thompson, a man of about Howard Baker's height, dressed in a dark, pin-stripped suit, has the manner of a young Jeb Magruder. The son of a Tulsa banker, Thompson, while he was still an undergraduate at Olkahoma State, set up what is now a $2 million business leasing refrigerators on college campuses all across the country.

Thompson, who is working for free, is clearly nervous about replacing Bates. While campaigning in New Hampshire, he was constantly being told by other Bush aides, "Bob, he's leaving," as Bush scampered down a hallway alone. Having lost Bush in a crowd, Thompson admitted sheepishly, "I'm not very good about keeping up." Thompson's entire manner is deferential, saying "sir" as often as Marcie in the "Peanuts" comic strip. On his first night with the campaign in Alabama, Thompson steadfastly refused all offers of a beer on the Bush plane, relenting only when the candidate asked for one himself.

While Thompson claims to be moved by Bush's "genuine sincerity" and his "people-oriented" manner, this doesn't explain why he is gallivanting around the country while his wife is seven-and-a-half months pregnant with their fourth child, who he acknowledges may be born while he is on the road.

What motivates Thompson, like to many campaign workers, is an idealized vision of life in Washington. "I'd love to work in the White House, at a responsible level," he said. "At the back of everyone's mind, aside from duty to the country, there is a selfish ambition to be at the center of power of the entire world." Then, as if he were reading from a script. Thompson added, "I'd only do it for a limited time."

As the Bush campaign plane flew from Nashua, N.H., to Des Moines, Thompson felt compelled to reveal his philosophy of life: "I'm kind of a believer in that old Schlitz ad. You know, the one that says, 'You only go around once in live . . .' I don't want to be 75 and on my deathbed and think about all the things I've never done." Flacks with a Future

Scratch most reporters and you'll find a frustrated talk show host. Scratch again and you'll often find someone with a yen to see politics from the inside. Every campaign generally has at least one assistant press secretary who does little more than drink, sit on the press bus and reminisce about the great stories he used to cover back in Boise.

Rex Granum, a former Atlanta newspaperman and now deputy press secretary in the White House, played that role for the 1976 Carter campaign. sBut because it is not necessary to have worked for a newspaper to wax eloquent about the candidate's war record, a campaign press office often attracts people with odd backgrounds. For example, Betty Rainwater, a former dance teacher from Georgia, was often the only press aide traveling with Jimmy Carter during the early part of 1976.

Not surprisingly, the only people in the Bush campaign who don't look like they were borrowed from Central Casting are in the press office.

Take 28-year-old Bill Kenyon, with his unkempt crop of dark, curly hair. He is the Horatio Alger of the Bush campaign. Six months ago, Kenyon was a bored $275-a-week education reporter on the Dallas Morning News, who was "tired of being a spectator" and sensed there was more to life than his paper's city room. With $1,000 in the bank, he quit his job cold and came to Washington with his girl friend to search for a job on Capitol Hill even though he had been here only once. After a few weeks of pounding the pavements, he wandered by the Bush campaign and, because he was willing to work for free, was hired as a press aide. (Since then, Kenyon has been put on the payroll at $10,000 a year).

Kenyon took his first trip with Bush early last November. Never without his bulky Sony tape recorder, Kenyon checks the sound system when Bush speaks, tapes the speech to feed to local radio stations and arranges interviews for Bush when traveling. Not terribly exciting work, perhaps, but the guys back in the city room in Dallas are envious. "People thought I was crazy when I quit," Kenyon said, "but when I went back at Christmas, they didn't think I was crazy anymore."

Deputy press secretary Susan Morrison, 31, is the St. Paul of the Bush campaign, signing on last year direct from a job as press secretary to Democratic National Chairman John White. Instead of a blinding light on the road to Damascus, she switched political parties because "the job I had was no longer fun." True, she agonized over conversion, worring "whether it was something I could do." But ultimately what upset her the most was the chore of breaking the news to John White.

Married to CBS News political editor Marty Plissner, Morrison was field coordinator for Frank Church in his bid for the 1976 Democratic nomination. She admits that her involvement in that campaign was motivated by something other than high moral purpose. "It was more selfish than any job I've ever taken," she said. "I did it to see a presidential campaign from the inside, period." Morrison stoutly maintains that the Bush campaign, which is paying her $30,000, is, of course, different.

There are moments, however, when Morrison is clearly troubled by the ideological tenor of the Bush campaign. After a speech in Concord, N.H., in which Bush waxed particularly Reaganesque, Morrison confessed, "I started thinking about issues today. I got depressed. I shouldn't think about those things."

But with Morrison, as with Scarlett O'Hara, tomorrow is another day. The next morning, as Bush passed her in the aisle of the campaign plane en route from New Hampshire to Des Moines, she said with genuine enthusiasm, "I really like that man." The Traveling Salesmen

Back in the old days, before undertakers became morticians, presidential campaigns were run by cigar-chomping political bosses with diamond cufflinks, an encyclopedic memory for names and their fingers close to the pulse of the nation and the telephone. Larry O'Brien and John Bailey of the 1960 Kennedy campaign may have been the last of that dying breed.

When Hamilton Jordan and Tim Kraft began to organize Iowa for Jimmy Carter in 1975, all they knew about that bellwether state was that it was somewhere north of Atlanta. This was a far cry from the old days when a traveling salesman had to know the territory.

That brings us to the newfangled profession of state coordinator, a title which Kraft held in Iowa. These days, the normal practice is to move a skilled political huckster into a key state to beat the bushes for the candidate. Often he is sent into the fray with little more than a map, a bank draft to open a headquarters and the names of six little old ladies who wrote to the campaign after seeing the candidate on the "Today Show."

Meet 29-year-old Rich Bond, who was George Bush's man in Iowa until the Jan. 21 caucuses. Bond, a gifted sailor, political organizer and clamdigger, is a Fordham graduate from Long Island who says, "My father thinks I'm nuts. He's a very nice man, about the age of George Bush, who has commuted on the Long Island Rail Road to the same office for 20 years." h

Bond, who spent the '70s working for Republicans from New York to California, decided 1980 was the year to crack the big time. In early 1979, Bond wrote several unanswered letters to the Bush campaign. He then got Eddie Mahe, John Connally's campaign manager, whom he knew from a prior political incarnation, to write a letter on his behalf. That opened the door to a $25,000 job with the Bush campaign.

Then on July 7, Bond was married. The next day he, his wife Valerie, her 4-year-old son Matthew from a previous marriage, and her dog set out by car from New York to Des Moines. For the next six months, living on Shaklee vitamins and carryout food, Bond struggled desperately, almost touchingly, to maintain a semblance of normal family life, fixing Matthew's breakfast every morning before leaving for the campaign headquarters in Des Moines.

Like the fictional detective Nero Wolfe, Bond was rooted to his office, not even leaving to watch a Bush press conference four blocks away. To him, the state of Iowa was as abstract as the multicolored maps on his office wall. The telephone was Bond's lifeline to the outside world. He used it to argue with the Alexandria staff about budgets, to swap the latest rumors with reporters, to negotiate with a local advertising agency over fees, to double-check that the phone banks were operating and to hold the hand of the state Bush chairman, George Wittgrad.

As the Iowa caucuses neared, Bond was talking eight times a day to David Sparks, the campaign's deputy political director in Alexandria. At 28, Sparks is the first to admit that he's doing all right for himself. Sparks, who ran the successful 1978 congressional campaign of Olympia Snowe in Maine, calls his present $30,000 post "an incredible promotion." He explained why: "Going from running a first-class congressional campaign to the national staff of a presidential campaaign is amazing. A lot of people in Washington could do this job," -- here he paused for emphasis -- "but I have it and they don't." The Cosmic Thinker

Shocking as it may seem, not all the ideas a presidential candidate spouts during the months on the road are his own. By merely picking up the telephone, a candidate can assemble a task force of experts, each, of course, fantasizing about an upcoming cabinet post, to brief him on issues ranging from Afghanistan to zinc mining. Alas, this process is a mite unwieldy since it requires the candidate to sit still for a few hours and listen to some of the greatest thinkers in the Western world explain the intricacies of the Small Business Administration.

About a generation ago, in one of those leaps of insight that has made America great, a candidate got the idea of hiring someone else to listen to all those weighty experts. He was thereby freed to concentrate on such weighty matters as shaking hands, confident that his newly hired cosmic thinker would distill the wisdom of the ages for him. It was at that moment that the campaign issue director was born.

For $45,000 and the hint of something big in store for him later, Stef Halper, a 35-year-old man with a droopy mustache, holds that post in the Bush campaign. Although Halper boasts a resume that includes stints in the Nixon and Ford White House, as well as briefing Bob Dole for the 1976 vice-presidential debates, his major contribution to the campaign thus far has been coining the phrase "window of danger" to describe the current international situation. Bush, of course, promptly changed that to "window of peril." Halper is normally based in Alexandria where he grinds out issue papers for League-of-Women-Voters types who like to read such things. But the day before the Jan. 5 Republican debate, Halper flew to Iowa to join the Bush campaign.

Halper, who clearly wants to become the Stu Eizenstat of the Bush administration, spent his time on the road doggedly trying to crack the campaign's inner sanctum under the guise of briefing Bush on the issues. On the morning of the debate, Halper's agitation was palpable, as he trudged from Bush speech to Bush speech, with three black debate notebooks under his arm.

That afternoon, Halper did get an hour or two to brief Bush in his room at the Hotel Fort Des Moines.But it was not enough. About an hour before the debate, Halper was standing forlornly in the lobby of the hotel, the debate notebooks still under his arm. "I hope there's one or two things I can still tell him," Halper said. "Maybe I can get to Bush while they're putting on his make-up."

Bush's youngest son Marvin, a college senior, asked Halper: "Do you think I helped things when I went into the bathroom and told Dad, 'I disagree with your stand on nuclear energy'?" Halper was not amused.

A moment later, the candidate and his wife, Barbara, emerged from the elevator with press secretary Peter Teeley in tow. Bush and Teeley fell into step leaving the hotel, with David Bates tagging along with Bush's attache case in his right hand. Ignored in the crush, Halper, still carrying the debate notebooks, ran after them, only to be ushered into the car with the local congressman, not the candidate.

For the record, Bush managed to hold his own in the debate without Halper's last words, which, believe it or not, would have been "about projecting force in the Indian Ocean."

If presidential politics is a disease, then the people I met in the Bush campaign should be in an intensive care ward. But, in fairness, this addiction to the powerful stimulant of a campaign cuts across ideological and party lines in a presidential election year.

Flying back to Washington, a week after the Iowa debates, I found myself seated, by chance, near Jim King, who was chief advance man for Jimmy Carter in 1976. After serving a stint in the White House, King now heads the nonpolitical National Transportation Safety Board.

I asked King, who is a full figure ot a Boston pol, whether he felt itchy with another campaign underway. "Psoriasis" was his one-word answer.

"I have a 1-year-old child and a wife who is finishing her degree," he said. "This is the one time when she said, 'I need you home this year.' I feel like a reformed alcoholic sitting in the bleachers of Fenway Park in July. All around me they're shouting, 'Cold beer, get your cold beer.' And I have to order club soda." campaign was a boisterous, brawling operation mixing Georgians desperate