Ask who might become Ronald Reagan's national security adviser, and the name that comes back most often is Richard V. Allen, chief foreign policy adviser in Reagan's campaign. No one leaps up and says, yes Dick Allen is cast in the large mold of Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski, he has just the right background and touch for the job. But as gossip about staffing a prospective Reagan administration starts to churn, Allen is the high seed.

Allen: 44, with a round open face, straight graying '50s hair and a bit of Henry's paunch; Notre Dame BA and MA; assistant professor of political science, Georgia Tech; early staffer at Georgetown's Center for Strategic Studies, co-editor there of a national security symposium; research/editor at the Hoover Institution, Stanford; at 32, foreign policy coordinator for Richard Nixon's 1968 campaign; briefly Kissinger's "principal associate"; later deputy to Peter Peterson, Nixon's international economic aide; recently head of his own business consulting firm; one wife, seven kids. I have known him and liked him for 18 years.

Allen is an instinctive right-winger. I recall his praising, in the early 1960s, Franz Josef Strauss, currently a candidate for West Germany chancellor. He has borne the label of cold warrior easily. He is not grim or emotional about it, nor highly intellectual or theoretical -- though he is quick and smart and can call on the qualities that produced a doctoral dissertation (University of Munich) on "The Theory and Practice of the Liberation of Man in Marxism and Leninism." He simply, matter-of-factly, sometimes almost cheerfully doesn't trust the Russians. Like, you might say, Reagan.

The other day Allen defined to me Reagan's approach, and his own, this way: "A hard-liner -- it's a term of opprobrium -- would in a crisis immediately reach for a hammer or a weapon. But Reagan is a realist who would deal with the world as it is, whether it's pressures of the Third World or military challenges. He's someone who examines a problem without a predisposition to a solution. He's a strong defender of American values, and wants to make sure they win. Reagan is a fundamentalist: things may appear complex but choices can be reduced to manageable proportions."

In 1968, Allen was at the center of a wicked Washington story unfolding still. The hustling available kid from Notre Dame, he had shimmied to the top of the Nixon campaign pole. But Nixon reached over him to Harvard and Rockefeller and a genuinely unexpecting Kissinger to fill the plum national security adviser's post. Kissinger made evident his distaste for Allen -- it is possible to believe he resented having Nixon impose a deputy not beholden to him -- and Allen soon left.

And now an older and wiser Allen is in the delicious (but, of course, not entirely risk-free) position of having shimmied to the top of the Reagan campaign pole, from where he can see the very man who undid him 12 years ago beginning to pay his respects to a (currently) plainly negative Reagan. What is Allen whispering in Reagan's ear? What is the meaning of the complaints now beginning to appear that certain lesser parties are standing in the way of Kissinger and more destiny? Stay tuned.

Meanwhile: Allen's (and Reagan's) main lines run to Nixon-Ford appointees known for differing with Kissinger and to the Committee on the Present Danger. Allen was already part of this crowd when he hooked up with Reagan -- after writing the foreign policy plank, "neutral" as between Ford and Reagan, at the Republican convention in 1976.

George Bush and Philip Crane asked Allen for campaign help this time, Allen reports, but he had approached Reagan in 1977, telling him that, as president, he would either set policy or influence it and Allen wanted to help. To season the candidate, Allen escorted him to Japan and Europe, dispatched him to Mexico, and got the Soviet ambassador's okay for a Moscow trip that never came off. He now travels a good bit with Reagan, and is "coordinating" the foreign policy and defense advisory groups -- lots of conservative respectables and some others -- Reagan is about to announce.

"I'm a facilitator," Allen says. "I'm at a crucial switch but it's open. I'm not an obstacle. We roundtable everything in this campaign."

Allen told me he is not asking for the White House job and expects to return full time to his business in November. But he volunteers that the job could not be done right anyway unless it were restructured to make its holder a "traffic manager, though not a eunuch" -- with the secretary of state truly as the president's chief foreign policy spokesman. Would he take the post if it were offered?

"I can't say I would not."