Jimmy Carter, candidate, appeard last night at his kickoff fund-raiser as a disembodied tape recording.

"Good evening," the tape recording said to the 1,700 Democrats at the Washington Hilton, Democrats who paid $500 a head to hear it. "This is a paid political statement, but it is not a campaign speech. My campaign travels must be, for a time, postponed." A little later, he added, "I must devote my concerted efforts to solving the Iranian crisis."

"The tape recording was the same one American television viewers saw last night for free, just before "Hawaii Five-O." Carter supporters at the dinner, who had expected a personal appearance by the president until the Iranian crisis forced him to cancel, just had to contend with it.

In addition, they got Rosalynn -- apparently the first presidential wife in history who has made her husband's reelection speech before his own party. She, too, touched on Iran, but got only polite applause. It was Vice President Walter Mondale who drew the cheers.

Aside from the usual Carter accolades, Mondale told the crowd that, "I stand before you as an unusual vice president -- I have been permited to be a full part of the American government."

Dinner chairman Nate Landow pulled out the superlatives to call the event "the largest political fund-raiser this city has ever hosted." Nobody tried to contradict him.And while he predicted that a million dollars would find its way into the Carter-Mondale coffers, others were a little more conservative and put the figure at about $775,000 after expenses.

At six private receptions at the Hilton earlier, the titans of the Carter administration worked the crowds like the professionals they are. Even Amy Carter got into the act.

"I like to go to state dinners like this and stuff," said the first daughter, who wore floor-length brown velvet and was introduced at a reception for minorities by her brother Chip.

"How ya been doing?" asked one supporter.

"Fine," said Amy, who perhaps has some way to go before she masters the art of political small talk.

Also surfacing at this reception were several family members and administration heavyweights, which may or may not say something about how the president views his support among minority groups.Lately, among portions of the black community, it as not been the strongest.

So there was Miss Lillian, pressing flesh and saying "Nice to see you." She also said that her son the president hasn't muzzled her after she suggested knocking off the ayatollah. "He likes everything I do," she said.

In a nearby suite, campaign chairman Robert Strauss was circulating among guests at a reception for Hispanic businessmen. "No one can tell me how important the Hispanic community is in terms of political power," campaigner Strauss said.

"Are you going to name a Hispanic to the campaign?" asked Omar Barbarossa, who runs a Hispanic advocacy agency in California.

"Yeah," said Strauss, "but I'm not going to tell you tonight. I didn't come to do business tonight. I just came to see some of my friends."

Strauss said he'll be substituting for Rosalynn in Oklahoma City later this week while she substitutes for the president at another fund-raising dinner.

"It was good for my ego to be filling in for her," he said, laughing, "until I found out how they felt about her down there. Let me tell you, they're just heartsick that they're getting me instead of her."

In the hallways between the private party suites, you could pick out a few gnomes of the Carter campaign. Tim Kraft, for instance, who had nothing nice to say about that other guy.

"We think our campaign is steadily building," he said, "and the other campaign hasn't taken off."

Then there was media master Gerald Rafshoon, who has produced a 30-minute documentary of Carter that was supposed to appear last night but didn't. Again, Iran.

Meanwhile, Rafshoon won't say what Carter does for 30 minutes on film. "He's not running along the beach," he promised. "This candidate does not run along the beach. And no, he's not in a peanut field."

At a larger reception for everybody else, Frank Enten of Bethesda hawked campaign buttons for $5 and Dr. Arthur Twersky of St. Louis, a cardiologist, snapped one up for his collection. It brought to $5,005 the amount he estimated he spent to get to last night's fund-raiser ("I had to take three days off," he said.)

Rep. Jack Brooks, (D-Tex.), sporting his 1976 gold lapel peanut, said he wasn't making any comment about Ted Kennedy's statement on the shah.

"Let Strauss take him on, let him stew in his own juices," he said.

And Rep. Jim Wright another Texas Democrat, who figured about 140 members of the House were not in Carter's corner ("maybe two dozen for Kennedy -- but I'm no authority on it") wasn't talking, either, about Kennedy.

"Well, you know," drawled Wright, "I'm just trying to be an agent of peace."

One congressman who didn't want to be identified called Kennedy "really a good guy -- so he's not a heavy-weight mentally, plays around with women, likes to party a little and is separated from his wife. He's not a bad guy." $ katie Louchleim said there's never been a president "in my lifetime" who recognized women and put them in top positions the way Carter has.

"Lyndon wanted to, but didn't have enough qualified ones to choose from. I fooled around six months to get to be deputy secretary of state and now it's like a lackey compared to women like Lucy Benson and Bette Anderson.

"I don't know anything about Kennedy's record for women," she continued, "but I've never heard of anyone in a top job on his staff."

There was heavy representation from Carter's White House staff. The event even had a usually unsentimental Jody Powell looking back to where the boss was five years ago ths month.

"We came to Washington to speak at the press club and flew back to Atlanta that day. That night Carter announced because he wanted to save that for the home folk," Powell said. "The world's turned over a few times since then."

Jody Powell said he wasn't going to comment on a report that the Ayatollah Khomeini sent a thank-you to Kennedy, because "the president told me to keep the hell out of it." But Les Francis, a campaign aide working with Kraft, said while he didn't think the statement on the shah washed Kennedy out of the campaign, "it probably will cause him a few problems."

And then, it was time for dinner. The lights flashed on and off, the signal for Democrats to pile up expectantly on the stairs leading down to the ballroom.

Transportation Secretary Neil Goldschmidt, for one, thought it looked like a giant revival meeting."This is a religious experience," he remarked. "How many Americans have the opportunity to attend a revival meeting, wear a tuxedo and spill food on themselves -- all in the same night?"