I hope you'll take a minute between bites of that cold roast beef sandwich as you bounce up and down on the Air New England flight from Manchester to Berlin, N.H., to think about where your strategy for winning the Democratic nomination will leave you for the 1984 general election.

The best way to look at that election is to get out a map of the country with the electoral votes on each state. While much has changed in the political life of our country over the past 20 years, the basic arithmetic of the electoral college has not changed at all. Since the end of Reconstruction, the only way that any Democrat has been elected president has been by carrying some combination of northeastern, midwestern and southern states. It is not my premise that the southern states are more important than the northeastern or midwestern states. It is my premise that the South will be more difficult for any Democrat to carry in 1984, and consequently deserves your early attention.

From the time that Reconstruction ended and whites regained the upper hand in the political life of the South, Dixie automatically voted Democratic in national elections, a habit lasting well into the middle of this century. Ironically, the same issue that drove the South into Democratic arms in the 1880s--the Republican Party's attempt to provide "full citizenship" for blacks--drove the South back into the Republican column in the 1960s, when white southerners, disillusioned with the civil rights efforts of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, broke their 70-year tradition of voting Democratic. In the 1964 Johnson landslide, the only states Goldwater carried were five "Deep South" states, and in 1968, the only southern state Humphrey carried against Nixon was Texas, the home state of the sitting president.

Having shed our preoccupation with the race issue and our habit of voting Democratic in presidential contests, the South began to view national issues through the prism of southern interests and needs--a view of government, economic and defense issues more conservative than the Northeast and Midwest. Then the country moved from the left of center during the 1960s to the right of center in the 1970s and 1980s. The South was already there.

While the presumption 30 years ago was that the South would vote Democratic in presidential elections, current trends, issues and voting behavior strongly suggest that the South is likely to vote Republican in the next national election. Where does this leave you, Mr. Democratic Presidential Nominee, after the convention?

Maybe you think you don't need the South, right? Maybe there is another way to reach the magic number of 270 electoral votes? Let's look at your map.

Suppose, for example, you carried all of the states in the Northeast and Midwest (Except for New Hampshire, Vermont and Indiana, which always vote Republican in national elections except in the case of Democratic landslides):

Connecticut 8 electoral votes; New York 36, Maryland 10, Ohio 23, Delaware 3, Pennsylvania 25, Illinois 24, Rhode Island 4, Maine 4, West Virginia 6, Massachusetts 13, Wisconsin 11, Michigan 20, District of Columbia 3, Minnesota 10, New Jersey 16.

Total: 216 electoral votes.

Well, after that, you should feel pretty good. You're only 54 electoral votes away from 270. New York, Michigan, Illinois, New Jersey, Ohio . . . these states are feeling the pains of Reaganomics, and a Democrat should be able to carry them-- right? But before you start packing to move into the White House, you might want to take another look at how theses states behaved in recent national elections.

Illinois and New Jersey have voted Republican in the last four presidential elections, while Maine, Michigan, Connecticut, Ohio and Wisconsin have gone Republican in three out of four of the last national contests. The chances of any Democrat's carrying all of these states are slim to nil. But for the sake of argument, we'll put all these states in the Democratic column, giving you 216. Where are you going to get 54 more electoral votes?

Let's look to the West. Maybe California? Not likely. Since 1948, California has only voted Democratic once (the '64 Johnson landslide). Oregon and Washington, possibly? Oregon has voted Democratic only once since 1944 (that was in 1964), and Washington has only gone Democratic twice in the last eight presidential elections. Beautiful little Hawaii always votes for the Democratic candidate --add four votes to your total, which gives you 220 electoral votes.

Unless you can figure out some way to carry Utah, Wyoming, North Dakota and a host of other very conservative, very Republican western and Rocky Mountain states, you are left to come to grips with the South politically. If you want to be elected president, you are going to have to carry at least several--and probably five or six--southern states.

How do you do that? The same way that you carry any other states, by campaigning here, understanding and responding to the special concerns and problems of the South. You have two additional reasons to mount an active southern primary campaign. Due to shifts in population and recent voting behavior, 12 southern states--from Virginia to Texas--will have 26 percent of the total delegates to the Democratic National Convention or half of the total number of delegates you will need to win the nomination.

The South also has a prominent, early position in the nomination process. As the primary schedule now stands, in the 11 days following the New Hampshire primary, five southern states will select delegates, giving the South a critical role in the "momentum game" as well as a major share of the delegates.

So I don't blame you for courting labor leader Doug Fraser, feminist Eleanor Smeal, Mayor Ed Koch and civil rights leader Jesse Jackson. You'll have this group and their constituencies with you in the fall against Reagan or any Republican. But if you want to establish a majority coalition that has the best chance of winning the nomination and the presidency, you'd better spend some time campaigning down south, paying attention to Govs. Jim Hunt of North Carolina and Bob Graham of Florida, Party Chair Bert Lance of Georgia, Speaker Ned McWhirter of Tennessee, Gov. George Wallace of Alabama and the hundreds of black and female mayors, legislators and elected officials who represent a growing, powerful force in the South.

There is a lot you can learn from political leaders like Gov. Dick Riley of South Carolina, Gov. William Winter of Mississippi and Atlanta Mayor Andy Young. For all of these progressive southern leaders have solved the dilemma not yet addressed by the national party--how to put together an electoral and governing coalition that addresses the human needs of our people while also recognizing and accepting the limits of government and government resources.

These southern Democratic leaders will support you in the fall of '84. But if your positions that evolve during the course of the nomination process are shaped exclusively for audiences in Iowa and New Hampshire, Illinois, New York and Washington, D.C., and fail to take into account the different views of the South, you will not have the support of the traditonally Democratic southern voters. And you won't be elected president.

P.S. If none of the southern candidates wins the nomination, you'll need a southern running mate for sure.