An article yesterday said that Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.), the Democratic presidential candidate, had called former senator Charles Percy (R-Ill.) a "liar" and a "sleaze" in their 1984 Senate context. A spokesman for Simon pointed out yesterday that the senator did not use those exact words during the 1984 campaign. Simon did accuse Percy of running a "sleazy" and "crude" television ad during the campaign. He also charged that Percy "lied to the people of Illinois" and ran a television ad that was "an outright, boldface lie." (Published 11/24/ 87)

TROY, ILL. -- Back in his days as a crusading young newspaper editor, Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.) commented almost weekly on the great political figures of the day in the columns of the Troy Tribune.

Simon found Earl Warren, later to become chief justice of the United States, to be "a regular fellow." He said then-Sen. Paul Douglas was "a truly great intellectual liberal who has his feet on the ground." He described Adlai E. Stevenson as "a very able governor" and "a very poor politician."

But there was one politician Simon seldom, if ever, praised -- Harry S Truman.

Simon, who considered himself a Republican at the time, didn't support Truman in 1948, or the Roosevelt-Truman ticket in 1944. Even after the young preacher's son became a Democrat in 1949, he continued to show disdain for Truman. Simon scolded him for calling for the repeal of the Taft-Hartley Act. He accused Truman of holding "a somewhat irresponsible attitude toward sound finance." He wrote: "I thought Tom Dewey was a better man than Harry Truman."

But as a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, Simon is portraying himself as a latter-day Truman, an old-fashioned, no-gimmicks Democrat.

"To become fashionable, some people tell me to get rid of my bow tie and my horned-rimmed glasses, and most of all to change my views. Well, Harry Truman wore a bow tie and horned-rimmed glasses, and he didn't knuckle under to pressure," the Illinois Democrat said in announcing his candidacy in Carbondale last May.

The simple, straight-talk clarity of this message and Simon's roots in small-town America (his home is in Makanda, population 402) have made Simon the hot property of the month on the presidential circuit in Iowa and elsewhere.

But the "Truman connection" troubles some old Simon associates. The Paul Simon they know -- and in some cases admire -- is a gentlemanly liberal identified most often with education and job programs and the kind of good-government causes advocated by Common Cause, such as requiring public officials to disclose the sources of their outside income.

Simon wants to get rid of the MX missile, scrap "Star Wars," cut military spending, send Peace Corps volunteers instead of military aid to Central America and make friends, not war, with the Soviets through student exchange programs and arms control talks.

"There's a real difference between Simon and Truman," said Alex Seith, who ran against Simon in the 1984 Democratic primary. "In terms of foreign policy, {Truman} was a hard-liner, a real hard-liner. Paul Simon is anything but a hard-liner. Simon is an honest, decent, marvelous human being. But I don't know if he'd know what to do with the job {the presidency} if he got there."

"I'm afraid he'd tape over the red button and disconnect the hot line," said Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) "No, he wouldn't disconnect the hot line. He'd get on the phone and say, 'Oh, Gorby, you don't want to do that.' "

"Harry Truman was strong on defense," said Rep. Lynn M. Martin (R-Ill.) of Rockford. "You just can't see A year before the presidential election, a number of candidates are campaigning for the Oval Office, stressing their accomplishments in current and previous jobs. The Washington Post is examining their resumes, records and reputations. Simon facing MacArthur down {the late Gen. Douglas MacArthur, whom Truman fired as his commander in Korea}. I can't even envision him in Korea . . . . Paul Simon is what he is -- an old-fashioned, Adlai Stevenson-plus liberal. He not only believes government is the helper of last resort; he believes it is the helper of first resort."

There are similarities between the two men. Simon, like Truman, is essentially an uncomplicated midwesterner, widely admired for his personal integrity. His friends say he is driven by an intense personal ambition, a sense of public service, deep religious convictions and a belief that government can and should solve problems.

He is not given to introspection or frivolity. He lives modestly (his latest financial statement shows a net worth of $138,091); he doesn't have a college degree; he hasn't read a novel since Edwin O'Connor's "The Last Hurrah" came out in 1956; and he still types his speeches on the beat-up old Royal typewriter he used to write his 11 books.

"Paul Simon was a straight arrow when straight arrowhood wasn't cool," boasts press secretary David Carle. But behind Simon's old-fashioned bow tie and "good guy" image is a tougher, more conventional politician than the solid "virtuecrat" his campaign portrays.

Paul Simon is a survivor, one of the most durable figures in the recent history of Illinois politics.

He is a politician willing to make ideological concessions. In 1972, he ran unsuccessfully for Illinois governor as the candidate of Mayor Richard J. Daley's Chicago machine.

In 1984, facing charges of being "too liberal" as he ran for the Senate, Simon's voting record took a decidedly conservative turn. He voted for litmus-test issues supported by the liberal Americans for Democratic Action 40 percent of the time that year, compared with 70 percent of the time in 1983 and 95 percent in 1985.

He is a candidate willing to drop into the political gutter. In his last campaign, he called then-Sen. Charles H. Percy a "liar," a "sleaze" and the "unpowerful" chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He broadcast a television commercial that strongly implied Percy helped spread cancer -- by voting against increased funding for toxic chemical cleanup.

"This is the kind of thing Simon does all the time and gets away with it because he is a nice guy," said Carter Hendren, Percy's campaign manager. "I truly believe he is a hypocrite, a very successful hypocrite, and as dangerous a man as there exists in politics."

Hendren, who speaks as a bitter, defeated opponent, cited a brochure distributed in black areas during that campaign as an example of "the worst kind of hypocrisy." The brochure boasted of Simon's record of support for civil rights causes. It featured a photo of Simon surrounded by black faces in a parade. A Simon brochure distributed in white areas used the same photo, but the black faces were missing, along with any mention of civil rights.

Simon's 1984 campaign manager, David Axelrod, said the cropping out was "a graphic design decision. They were two different brochures for two different purposes . . . . I think Hendren is groping for an excuse for losing."

Simon admittedly is a politician who is hard to pigeonhole. He sometimes fits two categories at once: conservative and liberal, or idealistic and pragmatic.

He supports a constitutional amendment to balance the budget while advocating an $8 billion jobs program modeled after the old Works Progress Administration. The same year (1984) that he published a book calling for a crackdown on political action committee contributions, his own campaign accepted $904,054 in PAC donations.

Even one of his most appealing qualities, an unusual willingness to take political risks, has its downside. During his first session in the state legislature, for example, Simon decided Illinois needed a new state song, and he persuaded a music teacher to write one. Simon brought a choir into the state House of Representatives to sing the song. He directed, arms waving, to the great bemusement of his peers. "I was panned all over the place," he recalled.

In 1983, he cosponsored a bill that would have allowed taxpayers to withhold portions of their taxes from the defense budget -- a risky position for someone aspiring to be commander-in-chief. "It was a protest vote," Simon said in an interview. "The Pentagon was going wild {spending money}, and we had to hit them over the head with a two-by-four." He added, "As a matter of policy, you can't let taxpayers decide what programs they'll pay for and what they won't."

At 58, Simon is the oldest candidate in the Democratic field and in some ways the most distinctive. He is a writer-politician, a man of eclectic interests.

His 11 books include works on Abraham Lincoln's years as a state legislator, Protestant-Catholic marriages, the politics of world hunger, and the need for more foreign language training in the United States, a special concern.

The latest, "Let's Put America Back to Work," outlines his jobs plan. It would guarantee every worker a minimum-wage job four days a week, leaving one day a week free to look for a better-paying job in private industry.

He has never been a power during the 26 years he has served in legislative bodies in Springfield and Washington, or held a leadership position above subcommittee chairman. Yet Simon has often been a key player.

Perhaps the best way to understand him as a politician is to examine his actions during periods of crisis. Every politician faces such tests, but seldom do they reveal more about a candidate than they do about Paul Simon of Illinois.The First Test: Challenging Vice

He faced his first critical test before he was old enough to vote. It defined his political career.

Simon didn't intend to become a politician when he moved to the small, southwestern Illinois town of Troy, about 20 miles east of St. Louis, in the summer of 1948, full of self-righteousness and heady ambitions. He was a 19-year-old college dropout. "I wanted to be the national seer," he recalled. "I wanted to be the Walter Lippmann of my generation."

His vehicle was to be the Troy Tribune, which Simon had purchased with a $3,600 loan secured by several members of the local Lions Club. The paper's rundown presses were ancient; its circulation list nonexistent.

But Simon considered it "a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a broke college kid." So he dropped out of tiny Dana College, a Lutheran school in Blair, Neb., after his junior year and went to work. He never returned to college.

Simon proved a gutsy, crusading editor with a good eye for detail and a knack for self-promotion. His paper was outspoken, crisply written and moralistic.

His front-page editorials and open letters to politicians made him sound like a small-town William Randolph Hearst. He devoted the front page of his first Easter week paper to "news" of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. "Jew called Savior Rises From Grave; Housewives First to See Empty Jerusalem Tomb," blared one headline.

Simon grew up in Eugene, Ore. His father was a minister in the Lutheran Church, Missouri synod, and publisher of two religious magazines, "Christian Parent" and "My Chum."

The bookish Rev. Martin Simon and his practical, hard-working wife, Ruth, had settled in Oregon after a missionary tour in China. Their small parish paid only $62.50 a month, and money was always short. Ruth Simon described the parsonage as "an old place, hard to clean and keep warm. All our furniture was second hand."

Life revolved around the church and helping others. The senator and his brother, Arthur, now a minister and executive director of Bread for the World, an antihunger group, were required to work one hour each weekday and three hours on Saturday around the house or in the family print shop for their room and board.

Rev. Simon was the dominant early influence. His politics were progressive (he spoke out against the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II); his life style conservative. Equality and public service were family ideals.

"My father tried to teach me that my Christianity should be an aggressive Christianity, one which fights for the right," Simon wrote as a young man.

The preachers' son found Madison County, Illinois, rife with political corruption, gambling, prostitution and organized crime. It would have been easy enough to ignore them; most small weekly papers did. But he soon began writing about bribes, "rakeoffs," and the seamy side of local vice operations.

It was pretty racy stuff for a small-town paper. Simon, then a baby-faced 20-year-old, wrote in graphic detail of visiting The Club 40, a house of prostitution in nearby Collinsville, as part of his investigation.

He reported he had just ordered a Coke when "a very good-looking young lady" came around the counter, "picked some lint from my suit coat, stroked my back, and said, 'Say, if you're interested in entertainment, I suggest we go up to one of the bedrooms and talk things over. They won't let us make propositions at the bar.' "

Simon played along, following the "lady" to a bedroom. He stayed only long enough to find she charged "$5 for once or $10 for a nice long party."

"I walked out of the place with five dollars still in my pocket and undiseased. Which is probably more than many a fellow can say," the young editor wrote. "I also walked out with a still lower opinion of our county sheriff, Dallas Harrell, and the state's attorney, Austin Lewis. With five dollars per person and many times 10, and with the mass production which seems to be going on around there, the operators might even afford to pay public officials a little."

Simon kept up his crusade for almost two years, charging that payoffs from illegal gambling operations controlled law enforcement and both political parties in Madison County. "He gave those gangsters a fit," recalled Carl Taake, a former Troy mayor. "Everyone was afraid they'd kill him."

When a bomb threat was relayed to him, Simon reportedly said, "I've got a lot of old equipment and a lot of good insurance. So you tell them to go ahead and throw the bomb."

The antivice campaign attracted the kind of attention every young newspaperman dreams of. Newsweek and the St. Louis Post Dispatch wrote flattering accounts about the boy editor; the late Illinois senator Paul Douglas called him "the wonder boy of Madison County." When then-Sen. Estes Kefauver brought his famous crime-investigating committee to St. Louis, Simon was a witness.

After two years as an Army enlisted man in Europe, Simon returned to his newspaper and ran for the state House of Representatives. To the surprise of almost everyone, the 26-year-old scored what the Alton (Ill.) Evening Telegraph called a "sensational upset" over an entrenched incumbent with a vigorous house-to-house campaign. The Alton paper identified Simon as "the candidate with the bow tie" during that 1954 race.

"I've worn one ever since," Simon said.

Springfield, the Illinois capital, in the mid-1950s was a city ruled by downstate Republicans and the Chicago Democratic machine, headed by Mayor Richard J. Daley. It was not an easy place for any downstate Democrat to operate, let alone an idealistic young reformer.

Simon allied himself with a small group of "Young Turks," which by 1957 included Jeanne Hurley, a dynamic attorney from the Chicago suburb of Wilmette, who sat four seats away from him on the House floor. They married in 1960, becoming the first husband-wife team in the history of the Illinois General Assembly. They have two children, Sheila, 26, and Martin, 23.

Simon's detractors called him "Reverend" or "the Deacon" and considered him overly self-righteous.

"Paul was an absolute free agent, a crusader, chock-full of ideas," said U.S. Appeals Court Judge Abner Mikva, who served with Simon in Springfield and later in Congress. "He had that marvelous naive enthusiasm that demonstrates politics should begin at a young age. He took on more causes and more issues than you could shake a stick at, and he never, never ran out of gas."

Simon sponsored 46 major pieces of legislation, including Illinois' first open meeting law, that were enacted during 14 years in the legislature, and received the "best legislator" award of the Independent Voters of Illinois each session, according to his office.

Three of the state's most powerful Democrats -- House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski (Ill.), Chicago Mayor Harold Washington and Sen. Alan J. Dixon (Ill.) -- served with Simon in Springfield and in Congress, but each preferred other candidates for president this year.

Rostenkowski is backing Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.); Washington is for Jesse L. Jackson; and Dixon waited a month after Simon announced his candidacy before endorsing his former business partner (they owned a chain of newspapers together), because he was hoping Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) would run. The Second Test: A Crusade Backfires

In 1964, the 36-year-old Simon, still in his formative years as a politician, did what for Springfield was an unthinkable act: He ratted on his fellow members of the legislature.

In a scathing article, "The Illinois Legislature: A Study in Corruption," in Harper's magazine, Simon, then in his first term in the state Senate, charged that one-third of his colleagues routinely accepted bribes and other payoffs.

It was a courageous article for an ambitious young politician. But Simon clearly underestimated the reaction. Instead of leading to reform, it led to a move to censure Simon; his peers gave him a "Benedict Arnold" award.

"The article was absolutely correct. It just was the kind of thing you didn't do," said Dixon. "Some of the boys were highly exercised. It was one of the reasons he was never in the leadership."

"It was a tough, tough year for Paul. He became known as the skunk in the church," recalled Mikva. "I think he learned a lot from the experience. It was very brutalizing."

Mikva said he believes the crisis profoundly changed his friend. Thereafter, Simon never personalized his attacks, and he went out of his way to establish friendships with his natural enemies, Mikva said. "He realized you can either be a personal crusader or you can go after institutional reforms. I think he is more interested in institutional reform." Today, 23 years later, Simon has surprisingly few enemies.

"We disagree totally on most issues. Paul is a liberal's liberal, and I'm a conservative," said Rep. Hyde. "But you can't help but like the guy. He is first of all a decent, fine gentleman. He is thoughtful, conscientious and honest." The Third Test: Losing to 'New Politics'

Simon also made peace with his party after the Harper's article. In 1966 when he sought reelection, the Madison County Democratic organization supported him for the first time. Two years later, Daley slated Simon as his candidate for lieutenant governor.

He won that race, despite the defeat of the party's gubernatorial nominee, and in 1972 the Daley organization backed Simon for governor. It set up Simon's third great crisis, and almost ended his political career.

Simon hadn't begged for Daley's support; he demanded it by convincing 87 members of the legislature to line up behind him. Once endorsed, he assumed the Democratic nomination to be his all the way up to election day.

"Everywhere I went, people told me I was going to win," he recalls.

But Simon made three major mistakes: He underestimated the power of television; he suggested that income taxes would have to be raised if the state eliminated property taxes and sales taxes on food and drugs, and most of all, he allowed himself to look like a lackey of the Daley machine.

Daniel Walker, his opponent in the primary, read the tenor of the times better than Simon. This was 1972, and the establishment was on the run across the country. Daley, whose Chicago police had rioted against student demonstrators at the Democratic National Convention only four years before, symbolized for many all that was wrong with American politics.

Walker portrayed himself as a "New Politics" populist, hiking the length of the state on foot. He used paid TV ads and interviews on news broadcasts to paint Simon as a tool of the Daley machine.

Disillusioned old Simon supporters helped out.

"I don't think every politician has his price, but Paul's price is power," Dick Mudge, a lawyer from Simon's home county, told reporters at the time. "It's his ambition that has caused him to rationalize that Daley's one-man rule of the Democratic Party is all right. Simon isn't dishonest financially. He won't take a bribe, but he will make whatever compromise in principle that is necessary to get Daley's support."

Simon refused to respond. "He was too nice a guy," said Rep. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), then a Simon aide. "I counted 45 separate Walker attacks. Basically, we decided we weren't going to answer any of them. We were going to forge on with our own positive campaign. We were completely wrong. You just can't do that.' "

Simon lost what was supposed to be a sure thing, 678,779 to 723,958. "Losing a big race like that is almost like a death in the family," he said.

Simon's reaction to defeat was revealing. He simply didn't dwell on it. He passed up several lucrative corporate job offers. Instead, he set up a graduate program in public affairs journalism at Sangamon State University in Springfield.

Within two years, he was back in politics, winning election to Congress from the southernmost district of Illinois. He was part of the famous "Watergate Class of '74," one of the most rambunctious freshman Democratic classes in history.

This week, Walker was sentenced to seven years in prison for bank fraud. The Fourth Test: Negative Campaigning

The 1972 defeat reshaped Simon's approach to campaigns. "Whenever anyone took out after me after that, I didn't hesitate about coming right back at them," he said.

By the time Simon met Percy, then-chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, for his next statewide race 12 years later, "it was a totally different world," said Durbin. "He had learned to get into the fight."

The Percy-Simon race was one of the most vicious in the country. Percy limped into it, nursing wounds from a primary challenge from Republican Rep. Tom Corcoran, who charged Percy wasn't conservative enough, and a $1.1 million "independent expenditure" advertising campaign paid for by California real estate man Michael Goland that charged that Percy was a "chameleon" who was insensitive to the handicapped.

Simon had spent 12 years in the House, and many assumed he would end his career there. Education had become his predominant interest, and he had found an important niche as chairman of the Education and Labor subcommittee on higher education. Asked to name his proudest accomplishments, Simon still lists his defense of college student loan programs, a bill to provide major aid to handicapped students and his advocacy of foreign exchange and foreign language programs.

But Simon and his wife had long dreamed of the Senate; he had, in fact, sought party slating for the Senate three times -- in 1962, 1968 and 1970. Simon had also received a major setback internally in the House, finishing a weak third in an effort to become chairman of the Budget Committee.

"That was the only time I ever saw Paul really down," said Eugene Callahan, a longtime Simon friend. "After that, he decided he wasn't going to be in the House very long. He knew he could never be part of the leadership. It was up or out for him."

Percy looked so vulnerable that four well-known Democrats sought their party's nomination. Simon won the primary with 36 percent of the vote by running to the left of the crowded field.

"In the general election, we said, in effect, 'forget about what we said in the primary,' " one Simon strategist said. "This race is about character."

His campaign issued several hard-hitting negative TV ads, questioning Percy's character. "If you are concerned about your Social Security benefits, then Charles Percy has a position for you," said one ad. "He's been for it and against it."

Other ads picked up the same theme. "Where will Charles Percy stand tomorrow? Only his pollster knows for sure," said one ad, produced by Washington media consultant Bob Squier.

Percy operated at the same level. He accused Simon of wanting to raise taxes, being friendly to Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and "kowtowing" to Israeli interests.

"Our ads weren't as bad as his," Simon said. "It was still a more negative campaign than I would like."

In the face of the Reagan landslide, Simon won by 89,126 votes, a 2 percent margin.

One of the most effective television commercials of the year might have made the difference. It was a plain, straight ad that turned out to be the forerunner of his presidential campaign. It showed Simon looking into the camera, saying:

"There are a lot of pressures to sell out in politics. So you have to know what you believe in and be ready to fight for it. I still believe in what America has always been about . . . . My opponent says that's old-fashioned. But I'd rather lose with principle than win standing for nothing."