After seven weeks on the road with the presidential candidates, a reality fix was badly needed. And fortunately the nation's governors were in town to provide it.

The men and women who run state governments cannot hide in the warm fuzziness of presidential campaign cliche's. There is no refuge in rhetoric for them. They have to provide the services their constituents demand and balance their budgets at the same time.

You couldn't find people better qualified to critique what has been happening in the campaign, and few governors have more impressive records in their past and present jobs than Thomas Kean (R) of New Jersey and Neil Goldschmidt (D) of Oregon. Both are innovative, activist, moderate, and both have an unusual ability to attract support across party lines. Neither has endorsed a candidate for president, and neither is strongly attracted by what he has seen.

''If any candidate with a chance of winning said, 'I want to govern the country and I'm interested in building a coalition that will make that possible,' I'd be for him,'' Goldschmidt said. ''But none of them is really creating a vision that relates to governing.''

After eight years of rather passive Republican leadership in Salem, Goldschmidt, a former secretary of trans-portation, defeated a strong Republican opponent in 1986, by offering a persuasive blueprint for bringing Oregon out of its long economic decline. He won significant Republican and business support in the campaign and has used it to move his programs forward in his first year as governor.

He is convinced that -- after eight years of Reagan's antigovernment rhetoric -- a Democratic presidential candidate could enlist similar support from Republican realists if he would offer a similarly tough-minded and specific blueprint for making the United States more competitive.

Instead, the man Goldschmidt considers perhaps most able to offer such leadership, Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, has bragged across America that he is the custodian of ''the Massachusetts Miracle,'' which somehow reduces unemployment, curbs welfare and builds flourishing communities without sacrifice.

As it happens, Goldschmidt in his years as mayor of Portland helped make that city a West Coast version of Boston, a city of great amenities with a healthy high-tech and services economy. But, he said, ''If I had run for governor {in 1986} on 'The Portland Miracle,' it would have sounded unbelievably arrogant to the people in the counties, which have been losing jobs and population. If you don't let people in those troubled areas see how angry you are at their plight, they're never going to believe you are going to help them.''

Dukakis, of course, rarely displays emotion of any kind. The Democrat who is doing that, increasingly, is Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri. Goldschmidt, who has his own firsthand experience as a businessman and a governor with Japanese trade practices, thinks some of Gephardt's anger at the exclusionary policies of U.S. trading partners is well justified. But like most others who take the issue seriously, he and Kean both say the real barriers to America's success in the international economy lie here at home: in our lagging investment and productivity, our foreign-language illiteracy and our cultural disdain for tailoring our products and services to foreign tastes.

''I don't blame Dick Gephardt for what he's doing,'' Goldschmidt said, ''but there's not an ounce of governance in any of it.'' In other words, it deludes voters into thinking there is a quick fix, rather than preparing them for what they must do to ensure their jobs and living standards.

Kean, who has presided over the modernization of the New Jersey economy and steered much of the growth to predominantly black inner cities, is even more disdainful of Gephardt's ''remedy.'' But he is vocally disappointed in Republican front-runners George Bush and Robert Dole as well.

''They both want to be {Ronald} Reagan's heir,'' he said. ''But they forget that Reagan had more than a pleasant television manner. He had a clear view of America and a plan -- whether you agreed with it or not -- for where he wanted to take it.'' Republicans may not need to find a new path for the nation, ''but at least you have to tell people how you're going to overcome the obstacles to getting there. Everyone knows the problems are out there.''

''But,'' Kean continued, ''at the moment, there's a fear of expressing ideas. Ideas are controversial, and the professionals {consultants} seem to want to keep their candidates out of that kind of controversy. That may get them through the primaries, but in the general election people need to know where you're going. Otherwise, even if you win, you can't govern.''

That word ''govern'' -- again. Governors know that's what elections are for: to create a mandate for governing. So far, the best of the breed -- the Goldschmidts and the Keans -- find it easy to stay neutral because the presidential candidates of their parties aren't using the campaign that way. When someone does step up to that challenge, we may know who will be the next president.