Only two elections ago, on the morning after the primary season's first returns, The Presidential Candidate's schedule would have read: "O'Hare Airport Inn, 10:00 a.m., private meeting. Lv. Chicago for Washington, 2:30 p.m. ."

Because every event on a candidate's schedule anticipates some response, it is a poll of sorts on how well the candidate is doing. The private meetings at O'Hare were a poll, without any margin for error. A big win usually meant standing room only. A bad loss would invariably produce a flurry of telephoned "regrets." The invitation list consisted of the financial "big hitters" involved in the campaign, men who arrived and departed in private planes and who could immediately provide and anemic campaign treasury with a six-figure transfusion.

Sen. Edward Kennedy did not hold such a meeting on Tuesday morning after Iowa. No presidential candidate did. In 1974, Sen. Kennedy wrote and helped pass a law that made such gatherings obsolete. The law prohibits any individual from contributing more than $1,000 to any presidential candidate. The same lasw forbids Sen. Kennedy, or any other candidate, from contributing more than $50,000 of his own money to his own campaign.

Based on past expereience, it's a solid bet that Kennedy learned, sometime Tuesday, one of the bitterest axioms about losing: for the defeated candidate, losing means spending a lot of time placing phone calls -- and being put on "hold." It is being told that an awful lot of people you know in places like New York and Los Angeles is either "in conference" or "in a meeting." It's facing the unpleasant truth that the same individuals who in late Octoberd were regaling their squash partners with stories of a "great dinner in McLean with Ted" will in late January make every effort "to get back to you as soon as possible."

Given the option, the average candidate would choose dental surgery over asking anyone for money. Raising money anytime is difficult for a candidate, but raising money after a universally publicized defeat is torture. In fact, political fund-raising can turn the most devout Presbyterian into an antical fund-raising can turn the most devout Presbyterian into an anti-Calvinist, persuaded that the Maker bestows money on the least thoughtful, least interesting and least attractive of Her creatures. For the candidate who has lost, the uninteresting and the unattractive overnight become the inaccessible.

Mike Ford is an exemplary citizen, a good husband, a devoted son and someone who loves both people and politics. Only the last characteristic offers any explanation for Mike Ford's spending the last two months in Waterloo, Iowa, as the Kennedy manager for the third congressional district. w

Among people who understand the art of political organization, Mike Ford is unanimous All Conference. He has mastered the specialized (and very old-fashioned) trench warfare of organizational politics. Organization, as Cesar Chavez could testify, is without glamour. It's reaching people one at a time, knocking on doors, making phone calls and inspiring others to do the same. A successful organizer must overcome indifference and concentrate on numbers.

Mike Ford had been one of the principal architects and engineers of a hastily constructed organizational effort that identified some 32,000 "ones" in Iowa. In the special jargon of the organizer, a "one" is an identified positive supporter of your candidate, who, you are confident, will attend the precinct caucus. Fours are the enemy, and twos and threes are the unaligned or the unreliable.

Cedar Falls is in the third congresional district. Precinct 52's caucus was held Monday night at the Orchard School in Cedar Falls. In 1976, a grand total of eight Iowa Democrats attended the Precinct 52 caucus. This time Mike Ford's troops had identified 24 "ones" in the precinct for Sen. Kennedy. So Mike Ford felt good Monday afternoon.

At 8:00 p.m., Ford walked into the Orchard School in Cedar Falls and was pleased to see in attendance 22 of his 24 "ones." One way you make All Conference is by learning how to count in places like Cleveland and Youngtown, where Ford served his apprenticeship. But a check of the other people in the room told Ford one thing: Kennedy was about to become the second member of that family, in 34 years, to lose an election.

There were 66 non-Kennedy people in the Precinct 52 caucus at the Orchard School and they were not for Uncommitted. From 8 people to 88 in just one election states pretty clearly that the Iowa caucuses had, in fact, become the "Iowa primary."

And for the first time in any politician's memory, supporters of a Kennedy were upset by the prospect of a larger than expected voter turnout. Kennedy workers, even more than most Democrats, always prayed for good weather on any election day. For a Kennedy candidacy, clear skies meant inevitable victory. In Iowa on Jan. 21, 1980, for Edward Kennedy, good weather meant political defeat, and the bigger the vote, the bigger the defeat. That's a big difference.

The Monday night crowd at Kennedy's Washington headquarters was young. Probably two-thirds of them were under 25. The overwhelming majority must have been in elementary school when Robert Kennedy's presidential campaign ended in a hotel kitchen in Los Angeles. This was to be, for them, what they had heard and read about for years. The room was loaded with navy blazers and circle pins and good teeth. They were not prepared for CBS' announcement of the Carter landslide. Walter was not following the script when he read the fiercely accurate projections so very early in the evening.

Some people drifted out into the night to find a happier scene than the one in the ex-Cadillac showroom. They should have stayed, because Sen. Kennedy, surrounded by his family, provided those who were still there with an object lesson in how to concede with class. He kidded himself, warmly congratulated his conqueror and predicted a brighter tomorrow politically.

To make his bad day worse, the networks did not even carry Kennedy's brief and graceful statement in its entirety. They had used up more time than expected interviewing George Bush, the underdog Republican winner in Iowa. As somebody once said, everything is a poll in a political campaign, and you can bet that George Bush was pushing "hold" rather than being put on it by Tuesday.