It was a scene from another era. A. B. (Happy) Chandler, who gave his first political speech from the back of a springboard wagon in 1922, was railing away atop a flatbed truck. "I'm popular again," he declared "All my enemies are dead. I outlived the S.O.B.s."

His words flowed onward as smoothly as a good Kentucky bourbon. And with just as much bite.

One candidate for governor, multimillionaire John Y. Brown Jr., "is pitiful," Chandler said. "He hasn't voted in Kentucky for three years and now he's trying to buy the election. He won't tell us about his income taxes 'cause he's afraid we'll find out he is a gamblin' man."

Even worse Chandler said, Brown had "divorced this sweet Kentucky girl, and married this glamor queen," television personality Phyllis George. "But she can't help him. She's a 11-month loser to another fella" - a reference to her first marriage - "and she isn't registered to vote in Kentucky."

And so Chandler went, through the lengthy list of candidates for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. He had a tart remark for each.

Former Louisville mayor Harvey Sloane wasn't qualified to be governor "because he gave a key to the city of Angela Davis." Secretary of State Thelma Stovall wasn't "well trained, or well educated" enough. And state auditor George Atkins, who has withdrawn from the race, "is a quitter. He put his hand to the plow and he didn't turn a single furrow."

The crowd of about 500 loved every word, and didn't release Chandler, last of the great border state stump orators, until he had sung "My Old Kentucky Home."

At 81, Chandler, a former governor U.S. senator and commissioner of baseball, was no longer a candidate. Instead, he was stumping for Terry McBrayer, handpicked candidate of Gov. Julian Carroll.

Few governors in the nation have as much patronage and clout at their disposal as the Kentucky governor. Under normal circumstances, his support would be enough to insure McBrayer's nomination.

But this is not a normal election year, and polls by two other candidates show McBrayer running second and third for tomorrow's race.

There are those who would like to read great national significance into the campaign, or picture it as a classic confrontation between media and organization, of celebrity versus political muscle.

The campaign has elements of both. But that misses the point. Actually, it is a rather straightforward battle between the "ins" and the "outs" - a referendum, in effect, on the scandal-plagued Carroll administration. It is a dirty, mean fight, full of innuendo, corruption charges, wheeling and dealing and influence-peddling in the worst tradition of Kentucky politics.

What sets the election apart is the number of major Democratic candidates - six until last week - and the fact that all but one represent a new generation of Kentucky leaders, a generation more comfortable in the television studio than on the political stump.

All except McBrayer are asking voters to throw the rascals out of Frankfort. McBrayer, a former commerce commissioner and state legislator, has never been linked with scandal.

"Nobody ever said Terry killed a sheep," says Edward Pritchard Jr., an adviser to Sloane. "But he has run with a pack of sheep-killing dogs too long."

McBrayer has most of the state Democratic establishment behind him. Carroll is out campaigning for him almost every day. So is Chandler and his longtime party rival, former governor Bert Combs. So is the University of Kentucky basketball coach, Joe B. Hall, a man of no little influence in the state.

McBrayer has raised more than $1.2 million, much of its from coal interests, highway contractors, engineers, architects, and others who've done business with the Carroll administration.

But McBrayer is worried. The momentum in the race has swung to Brown, who made a fortune as head of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Brown has already put $1 million of his own money into his campaign. And his opponents fear more is coming.

Says Pritchard, alluding to Brown and McBrayer.

"This campaign is a fight between someone who wants to buy the governor's office and someone who wants to sell it."

Harsh words from an adviser to liberal Democrats since New Deal days. But that's the kind of free-swinging campaign this has been. Reading the newspaper headlines here for a week provides a panoranic view of the underbelly of American politics.

Until recent days, Carroll, chairman of the National Governors Association, has been the target of most attacks. He has been accused of: delaying enforcement of strip mine regulation until after the primary as a favor to coal interest; offering Sloane help in getting a federal job if he'd drop out of the race; working behind the scenes to engineer an offer to give $250,000 to Richard Lewis, a candidate for lieutenant governor, to drop out and run for Congress against U.S. Rep. Carroll Hubbard, another candidate for governor; and exerting influence on Jimmy Carter and Attorney General Griffin Bell to delay a federal grand jury probe of wrongdoing in state government.

(The Justice Department late last week announced the go-ahead to a special grand jury probe, originally requested in January. Spokesmen ascribed the delay to routine bureaucratic footdragging, not politics.)

In recent days, Carroll and McBrayer have tried to turn attention to Brown. When state auditor Atkins dropped out of the race and endorsed Brown last week ("I'd rather see a man a millionaire going into office than coming out," Atkins said), Carroll accused Brown of giving Atkins a $100,000 payoff and promising him a state job. "It looks like Nixon and his dirty tricks all over again," replied Brown, vehemently denying the charge.

Brown is the glamor candidate in the field, a political novice whose previous experience in politics was in raising millions to pay off Democratic Party debts. He entered the race only at the eleventh hour, with no political organization and a barely passing familiarity with many state issues.

However, Brown was a genuine celebrity in the state, a status enhanced by his marriage on St. Patrick's Day to Phyllis George, a former Miss America turned TV sportscaster, in a dazzling New York ceremony.

He is also good-looking, fast on his feet and a quick study, and ideal television candidate. He made his fortune by buying out Col. Harland Sander's Kentucky Fried Chicken business for $3 million and building it into an empire which he sold for more than $30 million. Since then, he has owned the Boston Celtics, the Buffalo Braves and the now defunct Kentucky Colonels basketball teams.

Brown's campaign has been built around an elaborate phone bank system designed by Washington political consultant Matt Reese, and a slick advertising campaign put together by Washington media consultant Robert Squires. Reese claims to have recruited 15,000 volunteers through his phone and direct mail systems for an "instant organization."

In a race where less than 25 percent of the vote may win the nomination, Brown's chief challenger against McBrayer is another millionaire. Former Louisville mayor Sloane is a physician who has worked with the poor in Appalachian coalfields and Louisville ghettos. Sloane, who has contributed nearly $400,000 to his own campaign, also has a slick media effort. It stresses his opposition to nuclear power and a walk he made across the state which he says make him "in step with Kentucky."

The other two major Democratic candidates are Rep. Hubbard, who has a strong base in western Kentucky, and Stovall, a crusty favorite of labor.

Stovall, who has held various state offices for 29 years, attracted early support by calling the legislature into special session to consider a tax cut while the governor was out of state.

But the more exposure she got as a candidate, the more her campaign faltered. In one interview, Stovall said she could be a good governor even if she were "deaf and dead."

Hubbard and auditor Atkins, who withdrew from the race saying he had no chance of winning, were the point men in the attacks on the Carroll administration, attacks which Brown and Sloane have picked up in recent weeks.

The chief beneficiary in the long run may be former governor Louis B. Nunn, who is favored to win the Republican nomination. "We're very pleased with what's happening," says his chief adviser, Larry Van Hoose. "There've been personal attacks before in Kentucky campaigns. But I've never seen so many people want to throw someone in jail." CAPTION: Pictures 1 and 2, Kentucky campaign matches celebrity pull with traditional politicking: Candidate Sloane, left center, campaigns with boxing celebrity Muhammad Ali, background, while candidate McBrayer, right, appears at a rally flanked by his family. AP photos; Picture 3, Brown augments his own celebrity status with that of wife Phyllis George. By John Webb for The Washington Post