She is hardly ever around when the cameras are clicking, she is seldom quoted in the newspapers and when the candidate gets together with those in the inner circle she is often elsewhere -- poring over her names and numbers or at home with her three children.

Yet Anita Bonds, a 37-year-old alumnus of Berkeley's Free Speech Movement and a self-described former housewife from Southwest Washington, is one of the make-or-break people in Mayor Marion Barry's reelection campaign.

Bonds is Barry's chief political headhunter -- the person responsible for translating all of Barry's rhetoric, patronage, campaign contributions, endorsements and strategy into 40,000 actual Barry votes in the Sept. 14 Democratic primary -- the number most candidates consider necessary to win.

Like Norman E. Neverson in the John Ray campaign, R. Calvin Lockridge and Everson (Chuck) Esters in the Patricia Roberts Harris camp and Brian Moser in the Charlene Drew Jarvis organization, Bonds is a seldom-seen yet critical part of the campaign apparatus.

Along with her ward coordinators, precinct captains and army of volunteers, Bonds is the personification of what the candidates mean when they talk about "campaign organization" -- and a glimpse at what Bonds has done so far illustrates why many, including some opponents, say Barry is ahead in locating his voters:

* Bonds' troops already have contacted between 20,000 and 25,000 potential voters, either by telephone or in person and determined whether they are strong Barry supporters, leaning his way, undecided or unalterably opposed.

* Bonds has already determined the number of persons she thinks will vote in each of the city's eight wards -- a number she won't disclose -- and given her ward coordinators a goal of how many votes she expects.

* Combing through returns for every election since 1978, Bonds has determined the precincts with the largest turnout and scheduled Barry to appear in the parts of these precincts where most of the consistent voters live.

* Stacked in her office are thousands of computer-generated white index cards with the name, address, telephone number, ward and precinct number and candidate preference of every registered Democrat reached by the Barry organization.

A few years ago, candidates in Washington and elsewhere thought they could dispense with the old-time ward organizations that waged such time-consuming grass-roots campaigns and win simply by using sophisticated television advertising, according to Johnny Allem, a political consultant who has worked in several D.C. campaigns.

But in recent years politicians have learned that "the winning campaign is a good media effort and an excellent organization . . . It is exceedingly important that there is a personal touch of some kind to complete the selling effort" of the speeches and the advertising, Allem said.

Bonds and the other headhunters do the touching.

"We have touched someone in every precinct all 137 ," said Bonds, whose offical title is deputy campaign manager for operations. "We wanted to get the broadest turnout so we set out to cover the city."

Despite its relatively short existence, elective politics in Washington, especially at the higher levels, has become a much more exact science than the candidates' speeches might suggest.

"The most important thing the organization does is to identify your support and get it to the polls. That's key," said Esters, deputy field coordinator for the Harris campaign. "When you are neck and neck, he who turns out his or her vote, wins."

The three Democratic challengers for mayor, lawyer Harris and City Council members Ray and Jarvis, all have similar strategies for finding their voters. Shorter on volunteers and, in the case of Jarvis and Harris, never having run for a major citywide office before, they only have been able to target their efforts on those precincts with a history of high-voter turnout.

Barry, with more volunteers and lists of supporters from the 1978 campaign, has been able to work on expanding an already existent political base in addition to cultivating voters in high-turnout precincts.

Bonds and the organizers for Ray said they have contacted more than 20,000 registered Democrats by telephone or door-to-door visits. The Harris organizers said they had called 70 percent of the 70,000 households with registered Democrats, but they later said many had unlisted numbers and could not be reached.

These headhunters' work began months ago, when the candidates and their closest advisers sat down to analyze polling data and previous election results.

Once they identified precincts in which voter turnout was highest and where their respective candidates had the most potential support, they made the first contacts with the voters.

"I believe in foot canvassing," said Bonds, seated in her office with the turnout forecast chart behind her, ward and precinct maps on the wall above her head, and white cards surrounding her.

"Washington changes a lot," she said. "It foot canvassing is the best system for identifying residents and getting a good idea of their feelings. Telephone conversations must be brief and you don't see the person."

The Harris organization got a later start because she did not decide to run until late February, according to campaign director Sharon Pratt Dixon, and has been able to canvass by telephone only.

"There is a science to elections and we didn't have the equipment in place to fully exploit the formula for Pat Harris," said Dixon. Their organization's schedule for reaching voters is about a month behind Barry's, she said.

Esters, a former Ray staffer who was recently hired and attaches little importance to the late start, said door-to-door canvassing for Harris in 70 high-turnout precincts will begin soon.

Ray organizers say that his campaign, the longest running of the four, has visited voters in the top vote-generating precincts. Ray spent considerable time early in the campaign on walking tours of those areas. Jarvis aides say their organization has made telephone contacts. Lacking a major organization, Jarvis is relying on four sound trucks to help turn out her voters.

"Candidates have to go where the votes are," said Neverson, Ray's chief headhunter. "If I had a choice between going to [precinct] 66 [in upper Northeast with the highest voter turnout in the city and the precinct where Ray lives] and another precinct, I'd go to 66 because that, with 62 [in upper Northwest], has more people [voters] than in all of Ward 8 [Anacostia and Congress Heights].

Early in the campaign season, Bonds, Barry and campaign director Ivanhoe Donaldson started corralling the city's experienced campaign workers. Some, such as Lorraine Whitlock of Ward 7 and Susan Meehan of Dupont Circle, had supported Barry in l978, but others, such as Romaine Thomas in Ward 5, who supported a Barry competitor in 1978, were new recruits.

The Barry organization also lost some important vote-getters, such as retail executive Joseph B. Carter in Ward 4, who joined Ray's organization, along with Lillian Huff, a respected vote producer in Ward 5 who had worked for Walter E. Washington in 1978.

Many of the candidates are using telephone banks to track voter preference, calling soft-supporters and undecideds until they are firmly in a camp.

The Barry campaign, awash in more campaign funds than the other three candidates combined, hired 30 youngsters for three weeks in the spring to do nothing but look up telephone numbers. In addition, some of the ward coordinators are being paid this year and some volunteers are receiving expense money, Bonds said.

At the Harris headquarters, the organization has gone slower.

"We were really pulling it together at the end of June," said Dixon. "It's a tribute to the strength of Pat's candidacy that we got it shaking because we're doing it without the establishment and without the veterans."

The Harris telephone bank, with volunteers calling into precincts asking the same kind of questions as those posed by the Barry volunteers, started in June but did not become effective until July, she said.

Dixon said Barry had reached many potential Harris voters by the time the Harris organization called them, so "in the [last] 2 1/2 weeks we have to reach them and remind them of why they had dissaffection with him and should support her."

In these next two weeks Harris, Jarvis and Ray said they will concentrate on making appearances in Wards 4 and 5, the two wards in the northern part of the city with the heaviest-voting Democratic precincts.

Harris and Jarvis also plan to do a mass mailings to selected voters. As for Barry's strategy for the last two weeks, Bonds refused to say.