This fellow was out of town when the "exit poll" became journalistically de rigueur. Now, after witnessing his first national election in eight years, he's getting the hang of it. When (to quote The Post's television reviewer) "superior, dynamic, beautifully organized" CBS tells him two hours after voting booths closed that the Democrats would win 36 seats in the House, he knows where they're coming from. Never mind that the figure has been, as we say, adjusted downward (26 at last count).

It's the way all networks were able to give the Illinois statehouse back to incumbent Gov. James R. Thompson midway into the night. Never mind that Adlai Stevenson still hasn't conceded and that, eight days later, ballots are being spun-dry in order to iron out the final count. Or, that projections giving the California governorship to Democrat Tom Bradley later became inoperative.

He now understands it was the exit poll that licensed network oracles to inform West Coast citizens standing in line to vote in 1980 that the ball game was over. It was Ronald Reagan in a shutout. Yes, that may be unique to a presidential election. Still, those voters could be excused for feeling they might as well have gone shopping, or to the movies.

What's been perfected is an equivalent to trapping the runner between bases. He's the voter trying to get from the polling booth back to his car while being pursued by camera, microphone and officious interviewer. Nothing captures this ambush as exquisitely as Jeff MacNelly's editorial cartoon published in The Post Sunday. Microphone- holder is gushing, "Then you voted for Democrat Dwayne Bliffins in this key race because you saw it as a way to send a message to the White House demanding a mid-course philosophical correction in repudiation of the harsh results of Reaganomics?" Cornered, the hapless voter says, "Yeah . . . that -- and he's married to my wife's cousin."

When he's sandbagged by an electoral pollster, this fellow intends to take "The Fifth." To hell with Daivd Brinkley.

New topic: a story moves from back to front.

On Oct. 27, Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev mustered the chiefs of his armed forces in Moscow, where, "abandoning the conciliatory tone of his public pronouncements," he accused the Reagan administration of "adventurism, rudeness and undisguised egoism . . . threatening to push the world to nuclear war." He promised the chiefs "measures to meet all your needs" to counter an "unprecedented American arms buildup." In other major newspapers, this was front-page news.

In The Post, the story was consigned, by various defaults, to page 26 above a department-store ad. Buried also -- the reaction was that it missed by a mile -- was what Mr. Brezhnev had to say about China. The Soviet Union, he asserted, will "do everything in its power" to normalize relations with Peking. This was in response to a recent parallel statement of the Chinese leadership and, manifestly, said for the ear of Washington. Whether or not this is Moscow playing the China card, it is given meaning by the resumption last month of long-suspended diplomatic negotiations. Altogether not everyday stuff.

In recognition of some faulty news judgment, the story became the subject of two analytical pieces that freed it from back-of-the-paper ads. Add to this the fact that on Nov. 6 an otherwise obscure Politburo member made the front page saying less on the subject than Mr. Brezhnev. It was as though one Viktor Grishin had E. F. Hutton for a broker: he spoke; Post editors paid attention. This story was hard to find in other newspapers.

More catching up followed. Mr. Brezhnev returned to his theme Nov. 7 with a harsh message for the "hot heads of some imperialist politicians." Now he dominated the front page. That story ran alongside the second of two features documenting his standing as undisputed leader in the Soviet Union.