The campaign button was yellow with big black letters. It read: "Kennedy for lifeguard."

"Oh, I'm not really wearing this," said 30-year-old Rick Bannerman, laughing self-consciously. "Well, it's just my personal opinion."

There seemed little doubt where Bannerman's political allegiance lay. A member of the executive committee of the Young Republican Leadership (YRL) Conference, he and several hundred other conferees came to town yesterday for their annual meeting on how to be more effective Republicans. They got together last night at an opening reception in the Presidential Room of the Mayflower Hotel.

"This year the conference emphasis is on what's going to happen in 1980 -- who's going to be the candidate," said Carole Neideffer, a member of the YRL staff here.

Most of the conferees were in their 20s and 30s, some still in college. They spoke about the issues, presidential puetrospects for 1980 and building a Republican majority, the subjects they will examine at panel discussions the rest of the week.

The YRL membership includes supporters for such prospective GOP standard bearers as Rep. Phil Crane (R-Ill.) and Sen. Howard Baker (R-Tenn.).

"All are running as conservatives today," said YRL Chairman Roger J. Stone Jr. "It's hard to find anybody who calls himself a liberal Republican, I think the party's nominee will be conservative."

A surprise visitor ("He just called up and asked if he could come," said a committee member) was perennial GOP presidential candidate Harold Stassen, who took exception to Stone's view of things.

"I don't fall for this right-wing stuff," said Stassen, who spotted Minnesota Sen. David Durenberger in the crowd of otherwise youghful faces.

Cathy Barr, who is from New Jersey, spoke with great passion about how she saw the Repulican Party shaping up. "It's really exciting to be a Republican now," she said, and her friends nodded vigorously.

"For a long time Democrats coasted on the New Deal tactics. But the Roosevelt coalition is stating to crumble," she said. "There's nothing left in liberal Democratic philosophy. It has nothing more to offer members of that Roosevelt coalition. Particularly the poor and working class."

"What this girl is saying is good stuff," said Linda Holwick, a junior at the University of Missouri.

Barr continued: "Republicans are saying, 'Hey, we've got programs, we can give new jobs!... oh, I'm sorry," she said, catching herself. "I get so excited about this."

Sen. John Tower of Texas, last night's co-host with an absent Rep. Barry Goldwater Jr. of California, told the crowd that Young Republicans have an important job next year, adding, "I'm hopeful our country can survive two more years under the Carter administration. The prestige of our country has sagged for lack of leadership in the White House."

Looking more like a Texas banke than a stand-in for Superman (a role he played in a Dallas skit last weekend), Tower signed autographs and posed for picutres while predicting that if Carter is the Democratic candidate in 1980, Republican chances to win the presidency will be "excellent."

Other Capitol Hill Republicans who turned out were Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, Sen. John Warner of Virginia, Sen. S. I. Hayakawa of California and Rep. John Rohodes of Arizona. Rhodes drew cheers when he was introuduced as "next speaker of the House." He apologized for being late.

'i was detained because the Democrats were counting their money, and they realized they needed to raise their debt limit. So, congratulations, you have a new debe limit of $836 billions a year."

Nobody cheered that.