He was up at 6:05 that morning even though he would not leave the house to vote for another three hours. He dressed in a dark blue, three-piece suit, carefully smoothing his tie before putting the tiny golden shoes on his lapel. They were a gift from a friend, a dentist, who gave them to him when he began his campaign for governor.

The tiny shoes -- soft shoes -- were the symbol of Harry J. McGuirk's gubernatorial campaign, just as the phrase has been the symbol of the man and the politician. Although he was always viewed as a political pragmatist, he dreamed of being governor and of rising above the nickname that started as a joke and ended up as a burden.

"You know everyone who gets involved in politics comes into it with an ego," he said, sitting at his kitchen table hours after conceding defeat in the Democratic primary, crushed by a 3-to-1 margin. "I was no different. For 22 years I gained a lot of recognition but I never thought it was the kind I deserved. People took an innocuous nickname and made it into something big, something it shouldn't have been. At least now, in this campaign, people finally saw that Harry McGuirk is a class act, that he's an honest man."

There was no anguish in his voice as he spoke and his clear blue eyes never blinked. The innocuous nickname -- "soft-shoes," which had come to define McGuirk as the ultimate slick Baltimore pol, a nickname he had never backed away from -- somehow seemed to be at the root of his kamikaze run against incumbent Gov. Harry Hughes. That and the dreams all men dream.

But it was not that simple. Part of it was that most people believe they can do a job better than the next guy. Part of it was the belief that lightning does strike in politics, just as it struck Harry Hughes in 1978, making him governor. But there was more.

McGuirk will be 59 in November. He has been in the senate 16 years, chairing a powerful committee for the last eight. After 22 years in the legislature he had seen a lot of people come and go. Beyond that, he had seen a lot of people come and stay. And stay . . . .

"I didn't want to grow old in the senate," he said. "I didn't want someday to be the 'dean' of the senate, an old man with no responsibility to speak of, someone who just sat and watched the bills roll by my desk.

"We have a saying here in south Baltimore: 'The young can die but the old must die.' It was time to make room for the young."

No hidden agenda? No deals cut? No plans to run for city council president?

The blue eyes flashed briefly. "You see what I mean about my reputation? I've never been able to get the real message across."

Harry McGuirk says he began looking for a new job two years ago. He talked first to his old friend Louis Goldstein, comptroller of the state for what seems to some people like the last 200 years. Goldstein told McGuirk that he was going to run for comptroller again in 1982.

So McGuirk kept looking. More than a year ago he talked to Hughes. He told him he was thinking of running against him for governor. The news hardly fazed Hughes. But McGuirk's intent was not to set himself up as an opponent to Hughes but as a possible running mate since he knew Hughes was going to drop Lt. Gov. Samuel W. Bogley from his ticket.

"I think the governor might have liked to have me on the ticket with him," McGuirk said. "But outside forces, maybe I should say inside forces [Hughes' wife Patricia] wouldn't allow that."

Again, the image. The people around Harry Hughes are image-conscious to the point where someone will remove a drink from the governor's hand if he is about to be photographed. McGuirk, with his slicked-back white hair and pinky rings, did not fit the mode of the running mate Hughes was seeking no matter how competent or how respected he might be.

When McGuirk began insisting he was going to run for governor, all his friends in the legislature assumed he was simply angling for a deal with Hughes. Even after he selected Bogley as a running mate and filed for office, everyone kept looking for the hidden agenda.

If there is one, it has yet to be discovered.

McGuirk is not a man who is easily excited. Yet, as he sipped a cup of black coffee and nibbled at a piece of toast on election morning, he could not help but reveal a feeling of pride. "I thought to myself, only in America could the youngest of 10 children from a poor family wake up one morning and be a candidate for governor," he said. "Is that corny? I guess it is, but that's how I felt. I felt good to be where I was.

"Think for a minute what this campaign would have been like without Harry McGuirk," the soon-to-be former state senator was saying. "At least, whatever happens, I've made Harry Hughes earn the nomination. He's had to campaign. He's had to deal with the politicians. Now, when January comes he won't be able to say he got elected without the politicians. He'll have to deal with the legislature."

McGuirk spent the morning visiting polling places in his home district, greeted each time as a hero -- "HE'S coming in, My God, where's my lipstick?" cried one pollworker. He kissed all the ladies and the babies. He helped someone hang a Sarbanes poster. He bought a raffle ticket from a friend. When a woman's hat blew off and she began chasing he cried out, "Slow down, Lucy. We can get you a new hat but not a new heart."

When a TV interviewer, not knowing that McGuirk had stayed in his senate district that day, asked him later what he thought his chances were, McGuirk looked right into the camera and said, "Everywhere I've been, they're all voting for me."

That was McGuirk's campaign. He never really stopped trying to get elected to the state senate, and he only spent $30,000 on television, not a drop in the bucket in these days of media blitzes. He won 2 to 1 in his senate district, but got only 22 percent of the statewide vote. When it was over, he admitted disappointment with some old friends who, he felt, had deserted him.

"I suppose I'll always wish I had been a little more aggressive, that I had raised more money than I did $200,000 that I had gotten my message to more people," he said. "But when the campaign was over and I had been scrutinized by all the media in the state, by my opponents, by everyone, people had to say Harry McGuirk is an honest man, he ran a clean campaign, he's a class act."

As to the soft-shoes reputation, and why he had worn the tiny golden shoes on his lapel every day, all summer: "Well," he admitted with a smile, "I do still have some impishness in me."

This was Wednesday morning. To look at him, playing with his grandson and talking softly about his life in politics, you would guess that he was the conqueror and not the vanquished.

"I worked hard for the people of this district for a long time," he said. "They know the truth and that's what really matters. If I was all those things people said I was, do you think the people would have returned me to office for 22 years?"

He was immaculate as always, dressed in a gray suit, preparing to go to his real estate office.

The golden shoes were nowhere in sight.

Five days before the election, McGuirk appeared in Towson, the Baltimore County seat, to campaign and pay a courtesy call on County Executive Donald B. Hutchinson.

As he toured the county office buildings and the courthouse that morning, his staffers kept telling tales of all the people who had told them they were dissatisfied with Hughes and wanted to vote for McGuirk. A skeptic couldn't resist pointing out to McGuirk that if every person whose hand he had shaken during the campaign voted for him, it would not be enough to win.

"But if every person whose hand I've shaken votes for me and if everyone who knows the name Harry McGuirk votes for me, I can win," he said.

As he walked out of one office, McGuirk's arm grazed a flower pot and some loose roots fell onto the floor. He stopped, bent over and picked the roots up. Carefully, he dug the roots a place back in the dirt. The flower was already dead.

"It'll grow," he said quietly. "You watch. Nothing is impossible."