The early returns are in, and Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.) is turning out to be a big hit in the one precinct that may count the most for her -- the U.S. mail.

First returns from a mailing to a test list of 80,000 progressive donors show Schroeder getting back $4 for every $1 in mailing expense. "The rule of thumb is that is that if you get back just one for one on prospecting mail, you're doing well," said Roger Craver, the Democratic direct-mail specialist who has raised money for presidential hopefuls Rep. Morris K. Udall (1976), Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and former House member John B. Anderson (1980), and is handling the Schroeder effort.

By comparison, Craver said, Gary Hart got back about $2.50 for every $1 when his campaign used direct mail immediately after his upset win in New Hampshire in 1984. Craver said the only progressive presidential candidate to do better than Hart in recent times was Anderson, who raised $7 million through the mails in 1980 for his run as an independent -- and used that booty to qualify for another $7 million in federal matching funds. Schroeder's early pace, he said, is about 40 percent ahead of Anderson's.

What's her appeal? "Where direct mail is concerned, a candidate who is viewed as outside the inner circle always does better," he said, adding: "There's a universe of about 4 million potential progressive donors, and 60 percent of them are women."

Schroeder plans to announce by the end of this month whether she'll join the Democratic race, and she has said her ability to raise money is a key factor. But when Schroeder returns from a 25th wedding anniversary cruise and Craver meets with her this week, he'll temper his good news. "I'll tell her to be very encouraged from a financial standpoint." But he'll remind her that "there is often an inverse relationship between what happens in the mails and what happens in the campaigns.

"If it wasn't that way," he said, "John Anderson would be president."