Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.

The Democrats had one of those intimate little parties Wednesday, the kind that brings together more than 2,500 of their best friends from the president of the United States on down.

The vice president, the speaker of the House, the rest of the leadership of the 95the Congress all made it to the table on time. But the president, characteristically, got there after the dessert.

If that disappointed some in the crowd, others like Delaware's Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. thought it the best thing Jimmy Carter could have done. "He'd be crazy to spend his time here tonight - with the world going to hell in a handbasket."

The occasion was the 15th annual Democratic congressional dinner, being held at the Washington Hilton, with the price tag rounded off at 500 big ones per plate. Added up, it totaled upwards of $1 million and it was plain for everybody to see that they weren't exactly raising peanuts.

Like a number of those present, the real star of the evening had a constituency, too. Unlike them his didn't mark ballots.

"I feel bad about all these people here tonight coming around me giving me all this attention with all these senators in the room," said Muhammad Ali, there at President Carter's invitation and besieged by autograph hounds even at the dinner table.

"I guess that goes to show that I'm much bigger than boxing."

The evening's program was one of those multitalent affairs that features music and monologues. Music was by Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd, playing his fiddle: monologues were by Vice President Mondale and House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill Jr., to name but two.

O'Neill wore a bright green carnation in his lapel but steered clear of what his wife called "corny Irish jokes." Instead, he told a corny Carter joke:

Billy Carter couldn't make the dinner but somebody told him that Billy was off selling beer. Rep. Morris Udall bought a six-pack of Billy's Beer, the speaker continued, drank half a can, then sent the other half to the National Institutes of Health to be analyzed.

"The message that came back," said O'Neill, "was 'your horse has diabetes.'"

O'Neill voiced strong support of Billy's brother, however, closing ranks with other powerful Democrats at the dinner.

"There has been no president since FDR that has had as good a record as Jimmy Carter, and it still goes unrecognized by party leaders . . . a victim of post-Watergate press, that's what's happened to Jimmy Carter."

In the crowd, that ran from black tie to rep tie and dress lengths that ranged from cocktail to floor, you had West Virginia's Gov. Jay Rockefeller, Pan American Airways chairman William Seawell, former presidential aide Mark Siegel, who was sitting next to Minnesota Sen. Muriel Humphrey, and former DNC treasurer Bob Short, rumored to be thinking about Humphrey's Senate seat next November in the event she does not seek election.

Short, who did not exactly endear himself to Washington when he moved the old Washington Senators baseball team to Texas, said coming back to town was okay, "as long as I don't seek elective office. I often say that if Nixon and I were to face off for mayor, he'd win."