The Democratic presidential nomination contest ended much as it began - the front-runner, though pushed to hold his edge, won. Former Vice-President Walter Mondale was the candidate with the greatest experience and the widest network of political friends. He was chosen over, among others, former astronaut, John Glenn, a former defeated White House candidate seeking a comeback, George McGovern, and a ''new generation'' candidate, Gary Hart, whose turn evidently had not yet come. This was an expectable outcome.
The convention itself failed to live up to the Democratic Party's reputation for ruckus. That may help explain the generally casual attention Americans paid to the Democratic gathering in San Francisco this week. It did not help its video ratings that the event's greatest potential suspense was removed by Mondale's decisive delegate margin from the primaries.
This margin was ratified by acclamation on the first ballot. And its second-greatest potential suspense builder was erased with the preconvention naming of Geraldine Ferraro as Mondale's - and Hart's - vice-presidential pick. Hart tried to test a new party rule that explicitly leaves delegates free to vote their conscience on the first ballot, but he failed to start a stampede of defection on the convention floor. When McGovern, Hart, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson stepped forward to support the ticket, the ritual of joining ranks was complete.
There will be no rest for Mondale. As if to send the signal of what kind of race it will be, President Reagan starts campaigning in Georgia, Texas, and New Jersey next week, a month in advance of his own renomination. He will directly challenge the Mondale-Ferraro ticket's appeal among Southern and blue-collar voters. The Democrats had their interesting moments. They seemed to try to outdo one another in an evocation of roots: memories of New York and Baltimore neighborhoods, small towns in Minnesota, and, from Gary Hart - with some humor - memories of cowboy country.
There were lapses; the less expert speakers vacillated between attacking Reagan the man, overlooking his popularity, and attacking his policies. The new ''superdelegates'' - congressional and other officeholders included in the convention for the first time to provide a stabilizing force - had little to do.
At the gavel, Mondale had consolidated his power. He had put his stamp on the party machinery and introduced a ticket split for the first time along gender lines. As nomination contests go in either party, the Democrats emerged in reasonably good shape for what all acknowledge to be an uphill struggle against the Republicans.