Gov. Robert Graham is a plodder and a planner. He runs his life by the book, actually a spiral three-by-five notebook. Every day he writes down the time he gets up, how much he weighs (about 182 pounds), what he eats and the names of people he meets. There is one page for notes to his chief of staff, one for his press secretary, one for his wife and one for his campaign staff.

Graham is a management-by-objectives type, who values control above all. He describes campaigns as "multimillion-dollar businesses" that are "no different from a large corporation dealing with a marketing problem." He views opinion polls as "the political equivalent of a financial statement," a device used "to make better management judgments."

These should be unsettling days for such a man.

Graham, a second-term Democrat, is trying to unseat Sen. Paula Hawkins (R). And the race, in the words of Graham media adviser Bob Squier, "has been like a Mad Hatter act."

Hawkins, one of the Senate's most endangered Republicans, has made enough unorthodox moves and mistakes to sink a lesser candidate, including checking into a North Carolina hospital for back problems under an assumed name while her staff said she was on vacation.

Yet she remains exceedingly popular, and, up to this point, has set the terms of campaign debate.

Graham's campaign has been treading water for months. "He has been doing the old rope-a-dope," said Pat Riordan, a former Graham speechwriter. "You know, like Muhammad Ali. He puts his arms down at his side and lets her swing. He did the same thing in 1982 when he ran for reelection against Bafalis former representative Lewis A. Bafalis ."

At 7:45 a.m., a dark blue state-owned Ford LTD with a Florida "1" license plate slips out of the governor's mansion onto moss-draped Adams Street. It is a gray, drizzly day.

Graham is tired and edgy. The state cabinet's bimonthly meeting, always a long, raucous affair, had dragged on to 10:40. the previous night, and on his way home from the Capitol the governor stopped by Andrew's Second Act, a bistro, to chat with Squier and his film crew.

Squier was in town to film the second major wave of commercials for the candidate. This is a critical event in the life of the campaign.

The ads are designed to open a new phase of the campaign and put Graham on the offensive for the first time. His lack of an offense has created a deep uneasiness among some Democrats. "There doesn't seem to be anything happening in the campaign," one party strategist said. "That worries me."

Public opinion polls have bounced up and down and have been confusing. For example, a Miami Herald poll, taken March 1-5, showed Graham supported by 46 percent of respondents and Hawkins by 38 percent. But one published today by the St. Petersburg Times and other newspapers showed Graham with 58 percent and Hawkins with 33 percent. The Hawkins campaign says its poll shows the senator trailing by only 4 percentage points.

Graham insists he is untroubled. His polling firm, Hamilton and Associates, has told him he is 17 percentage points ahead of Hawkins, and he believes the numbers.

But there is little doubt that his campaign has had problems. First, it was thrown off stride by a series of negative Hawkins television commercials, then it was forced to scrap an official kickoff swing across the state when the shuttle Challenger exploded Jan. 28. And later one of his top fund-raisers, Miami lawyer Ronald Book, a former aide to the governor, became subject of a bribery investigation.

More recently, Graham found himself in hot water for making a motion during a state cabinet meeting to keep alive a pardon application of one of Book's law clients, well-connected crime figure Alberto San Pedro, who was subsequently arrested on murder conspiracy and cocaine charges.

The ride to the State Capitol, an impersonal 22-floor structure that towers above the city, takes only five minutes. Not many years ago, Tallahassee was a sleepy southern town. State government was controlled by a group of rural legislators called the "Pork Chop Gang" and the area around the old State Capitol building resembled an aging county courthouse square.

Today Tallahassee is a booming city of 95,000 with two large universities (Florida State and Florida A&M) and the center of a state government with a budget of $14.7 billion, up from $6.2 billion when Graham took office in 1979.

It is a city where big money is made and spent.

The signs of this are everywhere as Graham's car moves up Adams Street -- the Hilton Hotel and the Governors Inn, where visiting contractors and favor-seekers bed down; the offices of law firms and special interest groups; Clyde's Bar and the Governors Club, where lobbyists and state legislators gather to drink and deal, and the $43 million State Capitol building, designed by Edward Stone, the Kennedy Center architect.

The wheelers and dealers on Adams Street did not think that Graham, then a little-known liberal state senator, would be elected governor eight years ago. They quietly chuckled later when the St. Petersburg Times called him "Governor Jell-O" and a state senator denounced Graham as "the weakest governor . . . in the world."

Graham has since made peace with the newspaper and the senator. Now he is running for the Senate as a popular governor, trying to hold on to the trappings of power as long as possible.

"The governor is the preeminent leadership voice in Florida. As governor you can set the agenda," he said in an interview. "No one else has so much access to the media. There's no position in the state that gets the constant call to action or attention as the office of governor."

Squier's campaign crew is waiting in the governor's office. He has scripts for four new ads. Graham and Squier have worked together since 1977, and the affair is businesslike, according to those present. Graham, wearing makeup, repeats each script about three times for the camera, using his office as a backdrop.

In one ad, Graham proclaims, "In Florida, we balance our budget every day. That's a lesson Washington could learn." No mention is made that Graham is prohibited from deficit spending by the state constitution.

After 90 minutes of filming, Graham is driven to the state airport hangar on the edge of town. Here, a small plane captured by state police provides the backdrop for an ad about drug smuggling.

Posing beside it on the rain-soaked runway, Graham says, "Any country that can take down an Egyptian airliner over the Mediterranean in the middle of the night can take down this Cessna before it gets to Florida."

He then gets on a state plane for an "official" trip to Orlando, where he addresses an education group. There will be reporters waiting for him there, and a chance to get on the evening news.

The plane is another advantage of being governor.

There are many others. The governor heads a state bureaucracy of 117,900 (up from 97,400 when Graham took office in 1979); he fills thousands of jobs on boards and commissions by appointment.

The state supplies him with a mansion with a budget of $254,000, an office with 268 employes and state police bodyguards wherever he goes.

Graham, according to his staff, typically spends two of every five work days outside Tallahassee. His staff has recorded the population of every major Florida city on a computer to determine how many hours should be spent there. The Miami area, for example, is supposed to get 13 percent of Graham's time, because 13 percent of the state's population lives there.

This particular week Graham spends parts of three days in Orlando, Tampa and Miami, interspersing campaign fund-raisers and meetings with official appearances at such events as a gala at the Ringling (Circus) Museum of Art. Television cameras and newspaper reporters show up at almost every stop.

Graham cultivates the press, and he receives uncommonly favorable treatment in news columns and broadcasts. "He is a master public relations man," said Charles Black, Hawkins' chief strategist.

Florida has no dominant city or newspaper. More than 20 news organizations with 45 reporters work out of the Florida Press Center a few blocks from his office, and Graham-watching occupies much of their time.

He holds as many as three meetings a year with the editorial boards of the 13 largest Florida newspapers, according to press secretary Chamberlain. He films dozens of television public service announcements. Television reporters who interview him sometimes receive a note from the governor a few days later. (More than half the people interviewed in the Miami Herald polls said both Senate candidates were "publicity hungry.")

But there is a downside to the governor as a candidate.

Graham discovers that this morning as he and his wife, Adele, glance through the Miami Herald on their flight to Orlando. Columnist Carl Hiassen has taken them to task over the San Pedro affair.

Convicted on murder conspiracy charges in 1971, San Pedro's request for a pardon was rejected by the state parole board last fall. He hired Graham fund-raiser Ronald Book to appeal the case to the state cabinet. San Pedro, suspected by police of being one of the largest cocaine dealers in the Miami area, also persuaded Marcia Ludwig, a wealthy former beauty queen, to write a letter in his behalf to her old high school friend, Adele Graham.

As a favor, Adele Graham taped Ludwig's letter to the governor's shaving mirror one night. When the case came before the cabinet, Graham made a motion to postpone a decision.

Hiassen suggested that Graham write a note to his parole commissioners saying, "We've got to let Mr. Serial Killer out of the slammer immediately so my wife will quit taping these silly notes to my mirror."

Graham and his wife do not find this amusing. The Herald has been giving him fits over his action, accusing him editorially of "shameful conduct."

Graham and his wife shake their heads. Later he said he has distanced himself from Book and does not believe the incident will damage him politically. "I told Ronnie Book I thought he needed to concentrate on getting his own life in order rather than on the campaign," he said.

The state legislature, which begins meeting Tuesday, is a more immediate worry. These sessions have traditionally been the time Graham "flops or flies," the Orlando Sentinel wrote recently, reporting he "flopped" during most of the first term, but has had "good sessions" since 1982.

The tax issue interests Hawkins' advisers most. Florida, although it remains a low tax state by national standards, raised its sales tax from 4 percent to 5 percent and its corporation profits tax one-half percent during the Graham years. Taxes on gasoline, cigarettes and liquor have risen sharply, as have driver's license fees. Hawkins has charged that a "unitary tax," enacted in 1982 at Graham's urging but later rescinded, created "an economic nightmare" in the state.

Graham's legislative agenda this year is modest, and his advisers hope for an uneventful session. They see only the passage of the governor's budget as a political "must."

But the budget proposes $220 million in tax and fee increases, including an 8-cent-per-pack increase in cigarette taxes and an increase in the property taxes school boards must levy. Some legislative leaders have warned Graham that these proposals are in trouble.

Charles Reed, Graham's top lobbyist until he became chancellor of the state university system last year, said he had given Graham some practical political advice on how to handle the legislature.

"I told him if they pass something, declare victory and move on," he said.