They're calling it the Super Bowl of Straw Polls, and while it's mostly the promoters who say that now, the Oct. 1 straw poll at the Maine Democratic convention has turned into a real fight.
Everyone is telling a different story about who's ahead, but there is some agreement on how things stand:
* Former vice president Walter F. Mondale, who doesn't want to stumble here as he did in a Wisconsin straw poll in June, has a top-notch organization, and drew impressive crowds stumping there this week.
* Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), who wants a good showing in Maine to ensure his credibility as a candidate, has been peppering delegates with telephone calls and literature and has brought in several organizers from other states.
* Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio), who began strong and hired one of the state's best organizers, has faded a bit.
Glenn says he's not trying to win the straw poll, but he is using the convention to organize for next spring's Maine caucuses.
Others believe his people are pointing toward the Oct. 1 event.
* Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.) has an impressive list of top supporters and is making progress after a late start.
Cranston's advisers already are playing the expectations game, arguing that their man, who beat Mondale in Wisconsin, doesn't need to do that well this time.
They say if he establishes himself clearly among the top three candidates they will have accomplished their purpose.
And they say their polls put them right on target, with Glenn in the lead and Cranston narrowly ahead of Mondale.
Mondale's advisers say they doubt the accuracy of Cranston's polls. Instead they say Mondale is on top. They also say they have benefited directly from Glenn's decline and, anxious for a head-to-head fight with Glenn, are trying not to let him slip out of competition. But they are nervous about the large number of undecided delegates and the fact that a convention of political activists could turn out to be a fickle audience for any candidate who gets too cocky.
Among Mondale staffers in the state this week are Jim Johnson, acting campaign manager; Mike Ford, director of field operations, and John Reilly, senior political adviser.
"It's a four-man race," said Barry Hobbins, Maine's Democratic state chairman. And state party officials want to keep it that way, if for no other reason than they're enjoying all the attention.