TIM KRAFT HAD NEVER seen Hamilton Jordan cry before. Days later, when the Democratic convention was over, Jordan would swear that it was sweat that Kraft saw staining his round cheeks and his Lacoste shirt. Nonetheless, at 6:13 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 11, President Carter's chief aide was sitting in the communications trailer, parked on the side of Madison Square Garden, reeling from the worst political defeat of his life.

From the Sony portable on his makeshift desk, Kraft heard Walter Cronkite shouting, "It's a new ball game. Wisconsin's 49 votes mean we have an open convention. Anything can happen now. We switch to Dan Rather at the Waldorf-Astoria, who's with a clearly jubilant Sen. Edward M. Kennedy."

"Turn the damn thing off," Jordan shouted. "I can't listen to Kennedy at a moment like this."

Kraft, who was pretty shaky himself, tried to calm Jordan down. "Ham, it's okay. It was just a test vote. It's our convention. They won't repudiate him. They can't."

"Like hell they can't," Jordan said. "They just did." Kraft began whistling the Bob Dylan ballad, "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue."

In the end, Jordan and the rest of the Carter people were vindicated. Everything they had said about the dangers of an "open" Democratic convention came true.

Instead of promoting party democracy, it brought back a cabal of bosses choosing the nominee in a smoke-filled room. Instead of displaying Carter's strength, it exposed his weakness. Instead of leading to party harmony, it created the impression that Democrats were in total disarray. But all this was of scant comfort to Jimmy Carter and Hamilton Jordan on Monday night.

They knew that they had lost the first test vote of the 1980 Democratic convention. They knew that because of Billy Carter, spreading unemployment, Kennedy's concordat with John Anderson, Carter's plunging polls and growing pressure on Carter delegates by panicky pols back home, the president's 24 primary victories were for naught. They knew that by freeing the 3,331 convention delegates to vote their consciences, the Democrats had chosen chaos over the renomination of Jimmy Carter.

Few noticed it at the time, but in hindsight it was the most revealing television interview of the entire convention. To fill some TV time after Mo Udall's keynote speech, David Brinkley posed a few perfunctory questions to John Sears, Ronald Reagan's former campaign manager, looking surprisingly in his element at a Democratic convention.

"All conventions are alike," said Sears. "If you control communications, you control the convention. There'll be a lot of talk about dark-horses like Ed Muskie and Sen. Henry Jackson. That's nonsense. They don't have the communications system or enough floor passes. Only Carter and Kennedy do."

It's after midnight on Tuesday morning. You can still hear the laughter and the tinkling glasses in the Kennedy compound at the Waldorf-Astoria. But inside Teddy's suite the mood is curiously somber. With Kennedy are his two aides, Carl Wagner and Paul Kirk, as well as David Garth, the media wizard behind John Anderson.

"Carl and I have been on the phones for the last four hours," said Kirk. "We've won the battle, but no matter what we do, we seem to have lost the war. The Carter people are bolting like mad, except in the South. But they are just not bolting to us. We can't seem to shake this damn character thing."

Garth, accustomed to taking command at meetings like this, broke in: "I've talked to both John and Keke tonight. Separately. He's willing, I think, to go on the Today Show in the morning and say he'll be your running mate. But he'll only do it if it will put you over the top. Will it, senator?"

A brief frown crosses Kennedy's face as he sits in an armchair, cradling a Scotch in his right hand. "It's very complicated . . . uh . . . very fluid sort of thing," he said. "John's posture . . . uh . . . his stance . . . uh . . . his offer is very flattering. It's hard to predict. Can't really say that . . . No . . . uh . . . No . . . it won't put me over the top."

After 22 years in the Senate, Ed Muskie thought he knew all the hidden perks of government service. But as secretary of state, he kept discovering new ones. The latest was a suite at the United Nations Towers that is kept for the use of the secretary when he is at the U.N.

At 10:15 Tuesday morning, Muskie slipped out a back elevator at the Sheraton Center for an important rendezvous at that suite. He kept telling himself that there was nothing wrong with meeting a few prominent Democrats for a late breakfast. But he felt more comfortable doing it on his turf, instead of feeling like a turncoat at the Carter headquarters hotel.

Waiting for him was a small but select group -- Doug Fraser, president of the Auto Workers, and Washington super-lawyers Clark Clifford, Edward Bennet Williams, Berl Bernhard and Harry McPherson. Joining them were three up and coming senators of the Democratic Party -- Gary Hart, Paul Tsongas and Bill Bradley.

Muskie assumed his Lincolnesque pose and looked appropriately grave. But his mind kept wandering. He marveled at the panoramic view of the East River and wondered, for the hundreth time, about Clifford's clothes closet. How many Brooks Brothers suits did he buy in 1956 and why does he keep wearing them?

". . . not for that Canuck letter in 1972," Clifford was saying, "you'd be finishing your second term as president right now. But politics works in curious ways. We're here because we believe that history has given you another chance. The nomination is just sitting there like a ripe apple. Can we have your go-ahead? And, secondly, will you become an active candidate today?"

Muskie had rehearsed about four possible answers on his ride across town. But suddenly his mind went blank. "Gentlemen," he said, "I am both flattered and stunned by what you suggest. I would like to go into the bedroom and think for a few minutes before I try to answer you."

Sitting on the bed of this musty apartment, Muskie felt like a drowning man with his life flashing before him. There had been so many dashed hopes -- 1968, 1972. Then the years of isolation and loneliness in the Senate. Now he found that he enjoyed being secretary of state. He had given up trying to figure out Jimmy Carter, but didn't loyalty count for something? But loyalty to what?

As he opened the bedroom door, Muskie could feel the tension that had built in the room. "I'm afraid I'm going to disappoint you," he said slowly. b"I'm tempted, very tempted. But I don't think it would be fitting for me to be an active candidate. You can do what you wish on your own. But I can't say anything to encourage it."

Among other prominent Democrats, only Mo Udall shared Muskie's reticence. In late July Udall came up with a line he knew would outlive him. Nothing he could say or do could improve on it: "If nominated I will flee to Mexico; if elected I will fight extraditio." He suspected that this peculiar fear of topping himself was why his keynote speech Monday night had fallen so curiously flat.

Tuesday morning will forever be enshrined in the Guinness Book of Records.Between 10 and noon, six Democrats, if you count Eugene McCarthy, held press conferences to announce their availability for president. There were some priceless moments:

New York Gov. Hugh Carey claimed that John Anderson had told David Garth who had told him that Anderson really preferred Carey over Kennedy.

Sen. Frank Church, who had flown all night from Idaho, said, "In the formal sense, I am not a candidate. But I think our party's candidate should meet a few basic criteria. He should be from the West, under 60, have foreign policy experience, and be a forceful speaker. I might add that I am the only man who has beaten Jimmy Carter in a majority of primaries where we faced each other."

Sen. Henry Jackson, who more than any active Democrat can't take no for an answer, also joined the fray. Jackson mumbled his way through a lengthy statement with only two themes -- jobs and military might. But he faltered answering the first question. Asked if he had AFL-CIO president Lane Kirkland's blessing, he said, "Yes, I mean no, that is , I haven't talked with Lane for a while. But we admire each other greatly."

At 2:14, ABC was the first network to interrupt its afternoon soap operas to announce the results of a poll of all the delegates it could reach. The findings just added to the confusion. With 1,666 votes needed to nominate, ABC showed both Carter and Kennedy had lost much support overnight. The tally was: (TABLE) Carter -- 1,017(COLUMN)Anderson -- 169 Kennedy -- 786(COLUMN)Carey -- 89 Muskie -- 491(COLUMN)Udall -- 76 Mondale -- 372(COLUMN)Cronkite -- 37 Jackson -- 207(COLUMN)McCarthy -- 9 (END TABLE)

At 3 p.m., Hamilton Jordan, bitter but composed, addressed more than 300 loyal Carter delegates from the South in the main ballroom of the Sheraton Center. "I'll tell you why they're trying to take the nomination away from Jimmy Carter," he shouted. "It's not because he hasn't been a good president. It's because He's a Southerner and those Yankees still hate us."

When the applause and rebel yells died down, Jordan continued. "They hate Jimmy Carter because he has a brother who hangs out at the gas station. They hate Jimmy Carter because he never went to Harvard. And if you let them take this nomination away from us, you all, white and black, are going to go back to being second-class citizens. That's what we're fighting for today."

While Jordan was haranguing the crowd, Richard Moe was sitting, deep in thought, in the empty Carter communications trailer outside Madison Square Garden. The convention had been adjourned a half hour before, having disposed of the platform with surprisingly little fuss.

Moe, a longtime Mondale man, now more than ever was caught in the quintessential aide's dilemma: How much do you tell the boss?

Since the Monday night roll call, Moe had seen the handwriting on the wall. Carter was finished. But Mondale could still emerge from the wreckage. Moe had spent hours figuring out a way to take over the Carter trailer, right before the next night's roll call, and with it the communications equipment and floor passes. But the risks and the punishment for failure gnawed at his soul.

Forty minutes later, Moe was in Mondale's suite telling the boss everything down to the details of the frequency bands of the hand radios. Mondale was sitting on the sofa, smoking a fat cigar. "Dick," he said, "I love you like a son. God, I appreciate the way you've figured out what this loyalty thing is all about. It's a hell of a plan, and it might work. But . . ."

Mondale took a big puff and savored the smoke a moment "I won't do it," the vice president said. "I've had my problems with Carter. He's a strange bird. But 1980 just isn't my year. Sometimes loyalty and self-interest overlap. So I'll continue to go through the motions of supporting Carter. People won't forget who I am in 1984.

New York mayors since Fiorello LaGuardia have dreamed of prancing on a national stage. But as many of them discovered, what plays in Prospect Park closes overnight in Peoria. Still, in Gracie Mansion the old dreams of being presidential king-maker die hard, especially in a man like Ed Koch.

From the outset, Koch was a realist: He knew he could never do it alone. That's why the call to John Sears was a masterpiece. Ever since Sears pulled Richard Schweiker out of a hat for Reagan in 1976, Koch knew that Sears was a man after his own heart.

The big step was to forget that Sears was a Republican who had worked for Richard Nixon. What Koch recognized was that Sears wasn't an ideologue but a gamesman searching for a candidate and a challenge worthy of his talents. Ed Koch supplied both the candidate and the challenge with just six phone calls on Tuesday morning.

The first call went to Charlie Rangel, the Bronx congressman, a man Koch considered the smartest black in political life. As soon s Rangel called him a "mensch," Koch knew he was home free.

The second call went to Lane Kirkland. The AFL-CIO president, in his soft South Carolina accent, surprised him by suggesting the third person to call: Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia, the most astute hawk in the Congress.

The next person on Koch's list was Gov. Grasso of Connecticut, a wavering Carter supporter and the leader of one of the first states to vote on Wednesday night's roll-call vote. Grasso, who had been trained by that great party boss John Bailey, placed the fifth call herself. Robert Strauss, choosing his words carefully, told her that he would indeed attend the meeting, but only "as an observer representing President Carter."

The last call to New York Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, was the only one in which Koch didn't explain his game plan. He just mentioned Kirkland and added enough to pique Moynihan's boundless curiousity.

Now, at 6 on Tuesday evening, these five men and one woman were arriving at Gracie Mansion for the most important political meeting since a group of Republicans gathered in a smoke-filled room in Chicago in 1920 to nominate Warren G. Harding.

The original six were augmented by a few other recruits. Moynihan brought along two friends -- Norman Podhoretz, the editor of Commentary, and political journalist extraordinaire Theodore H. White, Strauss pointedly came alone.

Koch arranged the seating carefully: Sears on his right, Moynihan on his left. As a butler served drinks, the mayor of New York began outlining his thoughts. "Pat," he said to Moynihan, who was finishing his second Irish whiskey, "in the next 24 hours we can make you the nominee of the Democratic Party."

A grin crossed Moynihan's face. "In a moment of hyperbolic excess I once said that Lane Kirkland had the most important job in America." Moynihan fingered his bow-tie, "Since there are no vacancies at the AFL-CIO, I would be happy to consider your offer. But while I bow to no one in my respect for my charm and talents, we've got real problems."

Moynihan grew increasingly animated as he began ticking off his own liabilities. "First, there's the South. Southerners are irate over Carter's treatment, and with some justice. There are historic reasons for their inferiority complex, but, I suspect, this is neither the time nor the place to go into them. The important thing is that Thaddeus Stevens could get more votes in the South than I could."

Sam Nunn was primed for this one. "Pat, as you know, while we disagree on many matters, we share a common concern over our national security. It would be risky for me, but I might be willing to do a little missionary work for you among my Southern brethern." Koch broke in. "Pat, what would you think of Sam Nunn as secretary of defense? We can't do it without him."

Moynihan ran his finger across his lips. "Even if I agree, as I do, what about the blacks? I was right about 'benign neglect' and the matriarchial structure of the black family. But being right, as Henry Clay would testify, isn't the same as being president."

"You know, Pat, there is a way," Robert Strauss suddenly said. The others were startled. "The Democratic Party is more important to me than my family," Strauss explained. He reached into the pocket where the big green "Carter-Mondale" button was pinned and pulled out a gold Montblanc pen and a leather-bound notebook. "Call this number in Houston," Strauss said to Moynihan, jotting down the 10 digits. "Tell her Bob says it's okay."

A few minutes later, the deep and resonant tones of Barbara Jordan came over Koch's speaker-phone. "My acceptance would be instant and immediate," she said. "It would be a deep and thorough honor for my race and my gender and my state."

"It's a desperation ploy, Walter," Bob Strauss cooed into the CBS microphone shortly after Moynihan announced Wednesday morning. "This Barbara Jordan business is a clever gimmick for the Moyniban people, but it's rank trickery. I deplore it, and I think the delegates will deplore it."

At 4:15, the phones in the Carter suite at the Sheraton Center mysteriously went dead. Hamilton Jordan and Tim Kraft, their delegate tallies in hand, headed for the elevators en route to the pay phones in the lobby. In the elevator were three alternates from Missouri, wearing funny paper hats and drinking bourbon from paper cups, and a 17-year-old room service waiter pushing a cart filled with dirty dishes.

When the elevator got stuck for 90 minutes between the 10th and 11the floors, a freelance photographer got the opportunity to snap an award-winning shot of a hot and sweaty Jordan, in a paper hat and room service waiter's uniform, climbing out of the elevator shaft into the arms of a New York fireman.

At 6:30 on NBC, David Brinkley announced the results of a new poll of convention delegates before the evening's roll call. The figures were as follows: Carter -- 986 Kennedy -- 681 Muskie -- 508 Moynihan -- 472 Mondale -- 405

At 7:48, all eyes were on the convention podium, where Florida Gov. Robert Graham was nominting Carter. Nobody noticed when a large Consolidated Edison truck, with "Dig We Must" signs on its sides, pulled up outside the Garden. Three men with maps and police passes got out and began to raise a manhole cover. Inside the truck: Ed Koch, John Sears, Robert Strauss and a bank of telephones.

At 9:42, the roll call began at this most democratic of Democratic conventions. Alabama held firm for Carter. California cast all but a handful of its 306 votes for Sen. Alan Cranston as a favorite son candidate. The first breakthrough for Moynihan came when Grasso's Connecticut gave him 48 of its 54 votes.

An expectant hush fell over Madison Square Garden as the balloting reached Georgia. The delegation chairman announced that "Georgia proudly casts all 63 votes for our great president, Jimmy Carter." But suddenly a close associate of Sen. Nunn rushed to the microphone and requested that, under the rules, the Georgia delegation be polled. One by one, the Georgia delegates came to the microphone. The result 28 Georgia votes for "that great senator and that great friend of the South and Sen. Sam Nunn, Daniel Patrick Moynihan."

It took convention chairman Tip O'Neill more than 10 minutes to restore order. As balloting was about to resume, the phones in the Carter communications trailer suddenly went dead. "I'll kill those Kennedy people," Hamilton Jordan screamed again.

But out in the Con Ed Truck, Ed Koch and John Sears were having the time of their lives watching Bob Strauss at work. Strauss picked up a ringing red phone and said, "This is Bob Strauss in the Carter trailer. We've cut a deal -- vote for Moynihan. Yes, switch to Moynihan. That's an order from the president. After Georgia, he knows he's through. But he's still your commander-in-chief." Another phone rang and Strauss started again, "We've cut a deal -- vote . . .

For all the talk about democracy, delegates at national conventions tend to have an alarming resemblance to sheep. Anyway, that's what John Sears thought as he watched the bewildered chairman of the Utah delegation put Pat Moynihan over the top with 1,671 votes."You know," Sears said to a grinning Koch, "it's all true.Democrats do have more fun."