Revived presidential candidate Gary Hart has hit on an unusual -- and so far effective -- strategy for dealing with journalists eager to ask him questions about his "character" or his personal life: He has decided not to answer.

A recent appearance on public television's "MacNeil/Lehrer Newshour" showed concisely how the strategy works. When host Jim Lehrer asked about relationships with "women not your wife," Hart replied coolly, "It's nobody else's business."

"Why is it not anyone else's business?" Lehrer asked.

"Because it isn't," Hart replied.

In the week since his startling reentry into the race for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination with the vow to "let the people decide," Hart has managed at once to confound the news media and dominate it -- garnering, by one estimate, 39 minutes of network news coverage in the first four days of his new campaign, as well as an hour on ABC's "Nightline." Hart's week climaxed triumphantly last Sunday with a sympathetic appearance on the top-rated CBS News program "60 Minutes" -- an interview for which he set the ground rule that he would take no questions about Donna Rice, the Miami woman with whom Hart had a relationship that, when exposed, led to his withdrawal from the presidential race last May.

"There are other things to talk about," said correspondent Ed Bradley, who accepted Hart's restriction. "How many questions can you ask about Donna Rice? There's just one basic question -- 'Did you or didn't you?' He's been asked that I don't know how many times," Bradley said in an interview this week.

In his first eight days back in the race, the former Colorado senator held no news conferences and granted only scant audiences to a few select newspapers serving early primary and caucus states. It was all part of a game plan, as Hart described it to David Yepsen of The Des Moines Register last week, to "leap-frog the filter of the media {and} make direct contact with the voters."

So far he's been successful, according to some observers.

"I think he has been handling this thing flawlessly," said Republican media consultant Robert Goodman. "He's gotten $20 million worth of publicity he couldn't possibly have paid for . . . . It seems to me he's running against the press."

"The press is, generally speaking, in the hot seat," said Democratic consultant David Garth, who is unaligned in the race. "Hart looks like 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,' and The Washington Post and the other papers look lousy."

Yepsen, for one, did not confront Hart over Rice and related issues, which suggests that the candidate, initially at least, may be winning the war of wills and endurance between himself and the Fourth Estate.

"I think reporters are going to get tired of pursuing dead ends," Yepsen said.

"There's a certain fatigue that does set in," said James Wooten of ABC News. "He just wears everybody down."

Hart's goal, said Hart partisan Bill Shore, a longtime confidant of the candidate, is to project his message "unedited and uninterpreted" by the press. Hart's instrument, Shore said, will continue mainly to be television, preferably live broadcasts in which Hart can dominate the agenda.

"Given the complicated circumstances he's been involved in, he can communicate most effectively by trying to speak directly to the people, and TV enables him to

do that," Shore said. "On TV, at

least for a moment, people have a chance to see it unfiltered and unscreened . . . .

"I don't think it's so much a bias against print," Shore added, "but a bias against editing and interpretation. He'll probably shy away from a lot of the taped TV stuff for the same reason."

"He'll use the press whenever he can as the 'big bad press kicking around the outsider challenging the establishment,' " said CBS correspondent Bob Schieffer, "while at the same time trying to get himself interviewed in one-on-one situations with key journalists." CBS anchorman Dan Rather declined such an interview when it was offered last week. Hart went on MacNeil/Lehrer instead.

"He's chosen to play it the way he wants to play it, and that's his prerogative," Lehrer said. "We play by his rules. He doesn't play by ours."

ABC's Wooten, who traveled with Hart last week, learned some of the rules when he asked for an interview about the political implications of his reentry. "If you want to talk about America, and the future of America, I'll sit down and talk to you," Wooten quoted Hart as having told him. The reporter replied sure, but he also wanted to talk politics. "I don't want to talk politics," Hart said, adding with a laugh, "Good luck with your story."

A few hours later Hart gave Yepsen an interview dealing largely with politics.

"If your question fits his notion of what is an acceptable question, he'll respond to it," Wooten said. "But if you ask him, 'Senator, do you think your personal background has any relationship to your future career?' he doesn't answer. Sometimes he gives a tight-lipped little smile. Or sometimes he pretends he doesn't hear the question. Or just keeps moving . . . .

"The manipulation component of his campaign is pretty high," Wooten said, "in the sense that he knows that for a while, at least, we are going to have to pay attention to him, even though he pretends not to pay any attention to us . . . . Gary is very shrewd. He understands us better than we understand him."