For two hours last evening at the Shoreham Hotel, Republican presidential candidate John B. Connally let the crowd grow and grow at his principal fund-raiser so far in the Washington area. It had reached close to a thousand people who paid $125 each when he and his wife, Nellie, appeared in the Blue Room.

The Connallys, pushed by their protective escorts, made their way through the excited crowd, shaking hands and hailing old friends, to the speaker's stand. Then, in predictable fashion, Connally baited former California governor Ronald Reagan. ("He's a nice man, he's the elder statesman of the Republican Party"), President Carter ("I'd beat him, all right") and finally, his preferred Democratic opponent, Sen. Edward Kennedy ("By next spring it's going to be the two of us. And I'm prepared to meet him in the streets, or in the shrubs, or wherever he wants to be").

Then Connally solemnly declared that he thought the election would "turn the course of history . . . just as we needed such an event in 1932 when Franklin Roosevelt was elected, so the time has come now. In 1980 we will say that we are not going to be second to the Soviet Union. And we will say that the dollar has got to be saved . . ."

Last night's jubilant, wealthy crowd was not quite the broad cross section of society represented in FDR's grand coalition. One enthusiastic member, though, spoke with special authority on Connally's analogy.

Former Roosevelt brain truster and Washington attorney Tom Corcoran said the Connally candidacy reminded him of the 1932 race. He had doubts, about FDR, he said, until he was remanded on the subject by his mentor, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, a Republican. "Old man Holmes told me," recalled Corcoran, "that even though Roosevelt may not have the intellect, he had the temperament. And he said that that's what Teddy (President Theodore Roosevelt) had had. He thought that was exactly what the country needed then."

Corcoran, who escorted Connally reception committee member Anna Chennault, continued, "Now I want to see an honest Kennedy-Connally row, which would be politics at its best, to wake up this damn country to the issues that it has to face if it is to keep going."

The evidence was there last night that Connally is as effective in metropolitan Washington as elsewhere in appealing to much of the power elite.

Auto dealer Ted Britt described a meeting yesterday morning at which "75 to a 100 local business persons" met with Connally. "The special thing," said Britt, who knew Connally when both were at the University of Texas, "is that he tells it like it is to such an audience. He's a realist." t

Former northern Virginia congressman Joel T. Broyhill saw Connally rather that Reagan, as a stronger candidate in Virginia. "He has got to get across the state and attend as many small meetings and receptions as possible; that's Virginia politics. And, as you see, in such situations he's spell-binding."

"I'm committed," declared Woodward & Lothrop chairman Edwin Hoffman, "and I can't think of what it would take to get me uncommitted."

Last night's reception chairman was J. Willard Marriott Sr., who reflected a widespread feeling among the persons at the reception that Ford will not be a candidate for the nomination. "So I'm for Connally. He's the most competent and he knows more than the others about foreign and domestic affairs. He even looks like a president."

Perhaps a sure sign of the character of the event was the favors. Instead of the usual cocktail napkins with slogans, last night the favors were the cocktail glasses themselves.