It began with Philip Crane, John Connally, John Anderson, Howard Baker, Robert Dole, Ronald Reagan and George Bush. But they've been dropping like flies -- a develpment we hadn't expected when we undertook this series of interviews, conducted by Mark Shields, with the Republican presidential candidates. And now there are three. Never mind: maybe you'll get an idea not just of what you're going to get but also of what you're missing from these musings of the runners, the runners-up and the fallen-by-the-wayside. Crane:

There are a variety of presidents I admire for different reasons. Washington. . . . The thing that is interesting is he wasn't the most brilliant man of his age. I mean, Hamilton was vastly brighter; Jefferson certainly was. And he wasn't the great military strategist. But there was something about him that caused both the Jeffersonians and the Hamiltonians to hold him almost in reverence . . . With all of the temptations of power, the man could walk away from it, which is a quality that I find very admirable in him. . . .

A man, when you measure his practical performance, setting a fairly limited agenda, totally, and doing it in a very short period of time, surprisingly, is James K. Polk. . . . A third man I admire enormously because I think he understood money better than anyone who has occupied the White House, and the importance of preserving the integrity of money because of the ravages that inflationary money policies inflict on people in the lowest income brackets, is Grover Cleveland.

In recent times, Harry Truman becomes more and more an attractive figure in the White House. . . . Anderson:

Well, I think in this century it would have to be Franklin Delano Roosevelt. . . . He gave hope to people who were literally hopeless and I think he's got to be measured, therefore, as the greatest president of this century. . . . I guess I've always had a great fascination for Teddy Roosevelt. . . . He gave the image of a party that was out to make sure that conditions in the marketplace were fair and that he would enforce the antitrust laws in a way that would deal with those who engage in trying to corner the market and to restrict competition, and then I think of the early conservation policies that his administration sponsored. . . .

[Of presidential candidates] I really admired Adlai Stevenson. . . . Some of the observations that he offered during his campaign when he was really engaged in a very hopeless battle. . . . He had the courage of his convictions. Regan:

There are a variety of them that I admire . . . but to pick out one or two, I just couldn't do it. For example, a president that I supported because I was a New Deal Democrat -- Roosevelt. I look back now and I'm very critical of much of the New Deal operations. . . . they kept on giving the patient medicine -- the same medicine -- after he was well. But I admire the fact that he, more than any other, was able to communicate with the people when he was faced with a reluctant or even a hostile Congress, was able to persuade the people to support him to the extent that he could have his way with that Congress.

I admire Calvin Coolidge. . . . He cut taxes several times. He made installments on the national debt. We knew probably as solid a period of prosperity without inflation as we've known in this century. I admire Dwight Eisenhower. . . . I admire John F. Kennedy for going against his economic advisers and passing that across-the-board tax cut. . . . Bush:

Lincoln and Ike. . . . Eisenhower -- who got a lot of raps as a guy who didn't do much and played a lot of golf and really didn't get a lot done -- I cite because he is a combination of inflation at 2 percent and respect abroad. And true, he was a war hero, but he was an honorable, decent man. . . .

Lincoln, of course, for the traditional reason. Purpose. Lincoln's purpose: not half-free or half-slave, not all slave or all free, but preserve the union. Put his sights on it. Preserve the union, and doing it, emerging, of course, with these very human qualities of compassion and concern for people and all of that. Somehow, that mix appeals to me. . . . Baker:

I admire Eisenhower for recognizing his own talents and limitations. He didn't try to change his personality when he became president, and I think he was a good president. . . .

I admired Franklin Roosevelt because he was such a flamboyant and skillful politician. . . . He used that chief-of-state role better than any other president I've ever seen or read of.

Lincoln: I was rereading . . . clips from papers published . . . during Lincoln's first term in office, looking at the cartoons that were drawn; and if politicians think they have a rough time now, they see nothing compared with what Lincoln went through. It's hard to imagine the strength of character he must have had to have withstood that. . . . Pure strength -- I think Lincoln must have the honors. Connally:

I admire different ones for different things. They all have their weaknesses. I admire Thomas Jefferson for his incredible genius. . . . Andrew Jackson for his approach to people and problems. . . . Abraham Lincoln for commitment to a cause. . . . Teddy Roosevelt because of his courage and his daring. . . . Franklin Roosevelt for the hope that he gave to the country in a troubled time. . . . Truman for sheer courage. . . . Dwight Eisenhower for his incredibile ability to calm the nation and to create confidence in his ability to cope with the problems of the country. . . . Kennedy for the flair. . . . Johnson for his legislative acumen. . . . Nixon for his foreign-policy intelligence and perceptions. You know, I can find something about every one of them. Dole:

Having . . . been an Eisenhower fan, I guess my early years of politics and feeling that he was a man of total integrity and I guess everything everybody else feels: that war hero. He sort of fit the mood of the country at that time. . . . He hung in there, he suffered some adversity. . . . from the standpoint of somebody I really felt strongly about, that I knew, [it] would be Eisenhower. . . . Of course, we all think of Lincoln. I assume any Republican would think of Lincoln and the things he did to hold the Union together and as far as emancipation was concerned. . . . Twentyfive or 30 years from now, I think Jerry Ford will look very good.