As is not unusual in the case of great public embarrassment, the citizens of Dearborn Heights would prefer to play down the Aug. 5 victory of Gerald R. Carlson, the Republican nominee in the 15th Congressional District in this Detroit suburb.

There's a reason for their distaste: Gerald Carlson is a white supremacist and former Nazi.

"A jerk," say the Republicans, who hasten to add that Carlson is not really one of them -- he just claimed to be for purposes of the primary. "A vote in ignorance" is how the Dearborn Heights police characterize Carlson's victory.

Few people feel Carlson has a chance Nov. 4 against the Democratic incumbent of 16 years, Rep. William Ford. Even so, Republican leaders, having failed in attempts to get Carlson off the ballot, plan a write-in campaign for their defeated primary favorite, local public safety commissioner James Caygill.

That anyone could knowingly vote for Carson is beyond their comprehension, and with good reason, for Carlson's campaign in this blue-collar suburb, where unemployment just hit 18 percent, has been unusually virulent and bold.

For nine months, he operated a "White Power Hotline," a series of phone messages in which he told whites to drive blacks from their neighborhoods and said that blacks -- being lazy -- were responsible for the lowered automobile production and widespread recession here. For weeks before this month's campaign he operated a shadow campaign -- no headquarters, an unlisted phone; just leaflets and fliers handed out in the street.

He copied publicity shots of the local police that appeared in newspapers for National Auto Theft Week and ran them in his own newsletter, distorting the facts: "Crack Troops Ready To Defend Dearborn's Border Against All Outsiders." He said, in his campaign leaflet, that "the biggest problem our country has is the exploitation and oppression of the white majority."

Nevertheless, when the primary results were in -- Caygill, the offical Republican, won 3,037 votes to Carson's 3,715 -- people perhaps were showing privately what they might deny publicly: that Carlson was their man.

Think Nazi, or Ku Klux Klansman, or John Bircher, all of which Carlson has one time been, and chances are the image you'll come up with will not be Carlson. He's too smooth to fit the stereotype.

His debating style, while wary, is aloof and amused -- a sort of J. C. Penney version of William F. Buckley. He lunches on cottage cheese and a glass of milk. In conversation, he refers to Arnold Toynbee and William Shockley. There is even though rare, the occasional touch of wit. Could that have been a jar of hair cream one saw him disappear with before the photographer arrived? Aah, yes, the candidate concedes; "I have such fine Aryan hair."

He says this in a borrowed house in Dearborn Heights, the home of friends. His own home -- even the address of his home -- is off limits, he says. He is an evasive man: sometime electricain, sometime student, one-time Air Force linguist. He claims now to make a living as a private detective. For whom? He will not say. Neither does he care to be precise about his politics.

Ask him what he means when he says vaguely that he was "associated" with the Nazis (he was, though he doesn't like to admit it, an active member for several months), and he'll attack, wondering why the media always pursue "the sensational." Ask him what he means when he says blacks "just are not schooled to keep up a type of lifestyle in the same level of white people" and he'll try intellectual intimidation.

"I would just have to heighten my diction level or terminology," he says grandly then: "They just don't keep their places up or they let them run down."

This is the basis of Carlson philosophy, which he attempts to bolster with quotations from scientists and historians: that blacks -- supported by "liberal radical communists" -- are the cause of the economic and social breakdown of the country."

He believes many people see this, but are afraid to go public because of the "liberal-dominated press" -- "the intimidation of the masses," as DeTocqueville said." Carlson sees it as his job to "educate" the people who don't understand his philosophy who "see the extent of the problem and are awed by the expanse."

So much for the problems. Carlson is characteristically vague on the solutions. He buys time saying that there are three steps to problem solving -- perceiving the problem, committing yourself to the problem and deciding what to do about the problem. He would say he is now at stage two. If elected, he says finally, he would support a constitutional amendment to ban busing and would "take steps to repeal affirmative actions as well as open housing."

His old "White Power Hotline," with its antiblack messages, is part of his long-range campaign plans, he says but he refuses to play the tapes.He says he's already sticking his neck out talking to the news media," which is very radically, liberally oriented," particularly the Washington Post, which he knows is comprised entirely of Jews. For another thing, the tapes "might anger people for whom things haven't not yet gotten bad enough; some of those messages, one has to understand, were "highly dramatized."

Dramatized or distorted?

He allows a little smile. "Dramatized," he says slowly. "Some, I would even say, were very creative."

He describes a favorite.

"We had a case, here in Detroit, with a Negro whose eyes got bigger than his stomach. He was working for the government and he took off with more than a million dollars. Then he checked himself into a psychiatric clinic in Ferndale. I said the man was suffering from a disease called 'Negro-itis,' the inability of the Negro to function responsibly in positions in a white society. Then every time we had another incident, I'd say, 'Looks like we have another case of Negroitis here.'"

He smiles.

"Got so people were really looking foward to it."

Carson does not believe in psychiatry, which he calls a study created by "a minority individual in a marginal position in society." He prefers to talk in the abstract, in political terms, about himself, his alcoholic father, his growing up in the blue-collar, all-white neighborhood of Dearborn Heights. Only rarely does he slip into the personal, and anger shows through.

"You can see I had an inauspicious background," he'll say, driving through the old neighborhood.

More often, he clothes old pains -- which seem to have been many -- in what he perceives as universal political truths.

"When the male in the family abuses his political responsibilities -- or is alcoholic -- that creates tension, between the man and the wife and she is not satisfied," he says. "The reason the husband may be this way, which the wife may not understand, is because of the erratically developing political situation -- the blacks quite clearly having gotten out of control -- and the man runs from the situation."

"The result," Carlson says, "is that you have a male unable to protect his territory, his wife. He slams down on the family to vent this situation -- this is happening a lot to white males now, they're hogtied and not able to focus and take up their political responsibilities -- and maybe they become alcoholic. Then the wife may have contempt and she will often categorize her sons with her husband, and say: 'You're not better than your father, you're going to be an alcoholic just like him.' That undercuts the self-esteem of the male, his self-confidence . . . he has no chance . . . it's why you see so many young men unable to do that . . ."

That was the situation in his fmaily Carlson says. His father, a machine repairman at Ford, had been an alcoholic since his early 20's; his mother worked as a secretary but, because of his father's drinking, money was tight.

Carlson developed asthma "generally viewed as coming from the oppressive or stifling atmosphere," and became withdrawn. Shy, he says, was too polite a word -- he was "scared."

"Because of this shyness, this behavior, I became an observer," he says. He wanted to be a writer. He parents wanted him to go to work at Ford.

He did not. He joined the Air Force. He lived in Europe. He came back to the states and went to college on the G.I. Bill, graduating with a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of Michigan in '75.He spent several months, though he likes to downplay it, in the Nazis, the Klan, John Birch Society, states rights organizations.

His political concsiousness, he claims, began while he lived in "clean and orderly European cities and realized that Negroes are the main cause of our disintegration."

There were very few blacks in his Air Force unit, he says, because "they did not qualify on the intelligence tests." He suspects that the reason any were there was that there was "some sort of quota."

There was one black he considered his intellectual equal, who was even a friend, but Carlson has a ready explanation.

"I'm certain he was at least half-white," he says. ". . . We went canoeing once and he got a sunburn. . . ."

Carlson is driving through the suburbs -- Dearborn Heights, Wayne, the area outside Detroit he calls the heart of his constituency. Its a neighborhood of small frame houses and neatly kept yards, pretty enough but actually a neighborhood where times are bad. Unemployement is widespread. On the radio, there's word that domestic car sales for August are down 30 percent from '79; the worst year for the automobile industry in 19 years.

In the car, Carlson is taling economics, too.

"The radical liberals are stuffing the Negroes down our throats, but my people aren't going to do anything until it hurts them economically," he says.

"Now, the darkies are moving into our neighborhood and my people would like to move out, but they can't afford to.They drive for recreation, but they can't afford to with the price of gas going up; and being afraid some drunk Negro is gonna run into them. Then there's redlining -- I worked in real estate and I can give you hard statistics on that -- and my people paying more taxes, more insurance, because of all the black violence and crime."

He pulls up in front of a frame house. Inside, there's a Carlson supporter and his wife. The man is afraid to allow his name in the paper, afraid of retribution. ("See -- DeTocqueville -- intimidation of the masses," says Carlson.) He's also angry. He's retired from the Ford plant, living on a fixed income. The taxes on his home have gone from $248 to $1,000 in the past 12 years. He's having trouble making ends meet, but meanwhile he says, it seems to him, he's being ignored.

"I don't hate the blacks," he begins. "I just don't like what they're doin'. Raping, robbing, getting off scotfree . . . they riot in Miami, Carter declares it a disaster area . . . seems to me white people aren't getting their fair shake. I blame the government."

He goes on. The problems of inflation. The layoffs in the factories. Economic problems that would seem to have nothing to do with race. Except that the man is already antiblack and Carlson is sitting in the kitchen encouraging him, insisting that race does relate.

The man says often how much he admires Carlson's courage; the wife joins in. But at length, she has to tell Carlson something that's apparently been on her mind.

"I was talking to my neighbor about you," she says, "And she said, 'I wouldn't vote for him, he's a Nazi.'"

Carlson looks concerned. Sober. Shocked.

"I'll have to have a talk with her," he says finally. "I'll have to clarify that."