Jimmy Carter sent an aide to an aide, who was booed and hissed. Ted Kennedy sent a letter. And the Republicans just plain stayed home.

But Calif. Gov. Jerry Brown appeared live -- live from The Pier disco on Half Street, where he provided the gay movement with its strongest, support from a national political candidate so far.

"I have neither sent a letter nor a representative," Brown said to about 600 gay supporters among the aluminum palm trees and laser lights of the Washington gay disco, which, ironically, has become straighter and straighter in recent years. "But I have come here to be with you."

The mostly male crowd, which ranged from students in penny loafers to lawyers in pin stripes to strippers in V-necks, applauded and cheered.

Just moments earlier, an aide to Kennedy had gotten slightly milder applause when she read aloud a letter explaining the candidate's until-now-unknown stand on gay rights.

"When a qualified individual is denied employment or a financially aide person refused housing because of his or her race, or sex, or sexual preference, then we must all be concerned," the aide, Susan Estrich, read from the letter. Again, the crowd cheered.

Carter, on the other hand, was almost a bomb.

"You have a White House that is meeting with you and that respects you," said Mike Chanin, an aide to Anne Wexler.

"Bull --," somebody yelled from the crowd.

"I came tonight prepared to make a lot of remarks on what Jimmy Carter has done in the way of issues," Chanin said.

"What?" the crowd yelled. "What's he done?"

Democratic presidential candidates Carter, Kennedy and Brown made their various sorts of appearances last night at a noise balloon-filled fund-raiser for the National Convention Project. Its goal is to raise $100,000 to lobby for gay rights at the Republican and Democratic conventions. The event started slowly at 5:30, a good 3 1/2 hours before Brown was whisked in and whisked out, rock star fashion, through the Pier's kitchen.

So everybody passed the time playing pinball, drinking or eating (zucchini casserole, quiche, lasagna and assorted other broughtfrom-home concoctions nobody recognized). Then, gays listened to Tom Wilson, a Philadelphia songwriter who has an album called "The Guy Name Game."

"Gays are everywhere," he sang.

"We're teaching in the schools in Lincoln, Neb. . . . We just built a pipeline up in Alaska . . . Gays are everywhere."

Listening to Wilson was Brent Sleek, who came in second in the Mr. Gay D.C. Pageant on Sept. 17 at the Shoreham-Americana. His trophy, he said, is in the "leather playroom" of his house. "It wasn't really that tasteful, to tell you the truth," he said.

A little earlier, singer Jack Guidone had crooned "Helpless" by Joni Mitchell. He wore tan Adidas, a white vest, and danced in between verses of other songs.

"It's nice to see so many gays in the audience," he said in introducing himself. "And I see a few friends of Eleanor Roosevelt out there."

In the hours before Brown arrived, many gays there said they did not necessarily support him even though he has taken the strongest position among the candidates in favor of gay rights.

"The gay and straight press has been making a big mistake when they think that gay rights are the only things that we're concerned about." said Brian Mahoney, a photo technician who says he's learning toward Rep. John Anderson (R-ILL.). "We're whole people. We care about the economy and our defense stature."

Others assessed Brown's political image, which critics say rests somewhere between Cloud Nine and Mars.

"I don't like the whole karma things of Bown," said Andy Hirsh, a mechanical engineer who drank beer and wore a Ted Kennedy button. "I just don't like the whole space cadet image."

After Brown's brief remarks, he attended a private fund-raiser for his campaign in a stone mansion on Kalorama Road. It had parquet floors, a fireplace big enough to roast several presidental candidates and an owner who wanted to remain anonymous.

Brown arrived at the house about 10 p.m., shook hands with a lot of lawyers and bankers, and then settled back with pretzels and a glass of white wine on ice.

"I'm doing okay," he said of his financially troubled dark-horse presidential campaign.

Then, asked about Kennedy's strong statement on gay rights, Brown replied.

He copies everything I do." The private fund-raiser was specifically for Brown and was expected to gross around $5,000 for him. The Gay Project fund-raiser, at $10 a head, was expected to bring a little more.

It also brought out Mayor Marion Barry, City Councilwoman Hilda Mason and gay leaders like Franklin Kameny and Tom Bastow.

"This is really the first year that gay people have organized across the country to affect a national election," said Bastow in oratory from a seat atop a box of Los Hermanos wine in the Pier's kitchen -- one of the disco's few quite spots last night.

Out on the dance floor -- both upstairs and downstairs at the warehouse-sized place that holds 1,800 -- the music pulsated as light patterns from a revolving globe danced along the walls.

But nobody else did -- along the walls, on the floor, in the bathrooms or anywhere. In fact, for a disco, gay or otherwise the early-to-arrive crowd was downright dull.

"It's not nearly as much fun as it used to be," complained Tony, a bookstore floor manager who didn't want his last name used. "It used to be almost totally gay and it was wild and crazy. But then straights came in because it was chic to go watch the faggots dance. Now people resent the fact that when they come in here and hold hands, they get hassled and stuff."

But as the evening moved along, a ho-hum party turned first into a ballons-and-banners fund-raiser and then into an authentic media event. Hot lights. Camera crews. Reporters scribbling furiously in notebooks. Microphones poked into unsuspecting faces.

So by the time Barry was ready to make remarks to gays who gave him tens of thousands of dollars and helped elect him mayor, the crowd was hot. They cheered him for almost a whole minute before he could speak.

"I'm just delighted to be in a city where you are -- and to be your mayor," he said. "But there are still some unenlightened people in our city and there are a few lurking around somewhere in the closet of our government."