By Mary Lynn F. Jones

It's not hard to imagine, especially as Halloween approaches, that the ghost of Harry S Truman is sometimes seen taking one of his patented strolls through the Russell Senate Office Building, headed toward the second floor office of Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond (R-Mo.).

After all, the late Missouri Democrat once occupied the same suite of offices that now house Bond and his staff, and his presence is almost palpable as visitors enter 293 Russell. A portrait of the 33rd president is prominently displayed on the wall, and Truman's bust rests on the fireplace mantle, emblazoned with the famous declaration that defined his presidency, " The Buck Stops Here."

Even though Bond and his famous predecessor are of different parties, different generations and vastly different backgrounds , Bond got his nickname as a child because he didn't want to write out Christopher , the 58- year-old Republican seems to have embraced Truman's common-sense approach to politics and life.

Like Truman, who, when he arrived in the Senate in 1935, took the advice of Arizona's veteran Democrat, Carl Hayden, to be a "workhorse" rather than a " showhorse," Bond prefers to plow the fields of his constituents' Missouri interests rather than run on the track of national ambition.

That's an approach the aristocratic-looking, sixth-generation Missourian has taken seriously since he came to the Senate in 1986, and especially in his current role as chairman of the Small Business Committee. It's an approach that has earned him praise from his Democratic colleagues, including ranking committee member John Kerry (D-Mass.). "We've had a good working relationship," said Kerry. "He's listened to me and other members of the minority very well."

Like Missouri's junior senator, Republican John Ashcroft , who actually holds Truman's old seat , Bond is a former governor, making the Show-me State the only one other than South Carolina whose two senators are ex-governors. Says Ashcroft of his gubernatorial predecessor, "He works hard even when no one's looking."

To be sure, Bond has had to learn by necessity in a state that has produced such prominent Democrats as Truman and former Sen. Thomas Eagleton, the ill- fated 1972 Democratic vice presidential candidate whose seat Bond filled. After acquiring a reputation for aloofness during his first term as governor, from 1973 to 1977, Bond was defeated, then won again in 1980, when he faced a two-to-one Democratic majority in both houses of the legislature.

During an interview last week in his office, whose walls are decorated in un-Trumanlike dark red colors, Bond compared Jefferson City with Capitol Hill. "After the election was over, we sat down and talked about (working with the Democratic majority). We helped them meet their objectives, they helped me meet my objectives and we got things done." But on Capitol Hill, he added, " there's much more political infighting."

Not surprisingly, Bond has earned a reputation as one of the more moderate Republicans; in 1976, he supported President Gerald Ford over Ronald Reagan at the GOP National Convention.

While he can be rabidly partisan and conservative , criticizing President Clinton's use of the line-item veto and attacking the president on the campaign finance and Whitewater scandals , Bond has pushed an agenda that calls for full health-care deductibility for the self-employed. He also sponsored the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act last year, which reduces the impact of regulations on small businesses.

"As governor, I found tremendous frustration with the interference by Washington in meeting the priorities of the people of the state of Missouri," he said. "If we can move some of that responsibility, for programs that really are administered by the states back to the states, we're going to be far better off."

Bond displays a show-me attitude toward the notion "that Washington has a much better idea of how to meet the needs of the people in Missouri than the people in Missouri who serve and are directly responsible to them. Certainly, the national role is important, but there comes a time when the meddling, interference and invasion is excessive, unproductive and I think in many areas we've reached that."

One area is the regulation of small businesses and the complicated tax code, on which his committee will hold hearings today. "We need a full-blown discussion before we throw out the whole internal revenue code and replace it, " said Bond, who won't endorse any specific plan.

Ashcroft credits Bond with having "breathed new life" into the Small Business Committee, and moved its work "from the classifieds to the front page," and Susan Eckerly, chief Senate lobbyist for the National Federation of Independent Business, praises Bond as "an excellent friend of small business."

Bond has also pushed for fast-track trade authorization, since Missouri sells about 40 percent of its output internationally. "The more world markets we have, the better off the farm economy is in our state," he said.

Political reporter Steve Kraske, who covers Bond for The Kansas City Star, called Bond "an effective, behind-the-scenes kind of player" who is "not a strong ideologue." But he qualified his assessment by adding that Missouri voters "can't tell you what he's done for them lately (and) don't associate him with one cause or another."

Bond's low profile could hurt him when he runs for a third term next fall. He has never won a race by more than 10 percentage points since his first contest, for state auditor, in 1970. In fact, in five subsequent statewide races, his highest percentage was 55, when he won his first race for governor in 1972.

In 1992, Bond won with only 52 percent, which he jokingly conceded, "for me, is a landslide." During that race, he placed his assets in a blind trust, and his investment adviser lost more than $1 million of his money, forcing Bond to sell his million-dollar home in Washington. Bond, who is divorced, sums up his painful experience by saying he learned "never put your money in a blind trust."

Next fall, Bond will likely face Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon, a popular figure with statewide name recognition. "It will be a very tough race next year, no question about it," Bond acknowledged.

According to Rick Hardy, a professor of political science at the University of Missouri-Columbia, Nixon is a strong campaigner who has made his name pursuing high-profile cases.

"Nixon is a very enthusiastic, smart politician," added Kraske. "He's proven to be a very popular attorney general. In 1996, he got more votes for reelection than either (Gov. Mel) Carnahan (D) or Bill Clinton. That speaks well for him because Carnahan is a fairly popular governor."

But Nixon, who lost a 1988 challenge to then-Sen. Jack Danforth (R-Mo.), recently stirred the waters by challenging a St. Louis school desegregation plan, thus incurring the wrath of Missouri's sharp-tongued senior House Democrat, Rep. William Clay. Clay said he will "do what I have to do" to make sure Nixon is defeated.

Despite Bond's lack of spectacular success with Missouri voters, he stands a good chance of winning a third term, according to Kraske. "Some Democrats think he's very good, some Republicans think he's very good (and) effective. He ... has a thinner and broader appeal than a deeper and narrower appeal. I don't think Democrats find him offensive and that's a big advantage."