You might have called it the luck of the Irish -- except that they weren't and she wasn't even if the decorations at one of the stops did say "Erin go Bragh."

"I wore my green dress for you," she told them, brightly.

Back in Washington, handling rapidly breaking developments in the Iranian hostage crisis, Rosalynn Carter continued, was Jimmy Carter, their president.

"I don't think anybody can realize how sensitive those issues are, how delicate," she said to the silently nodding gray heads of 300 Jewish senior citizens at a morning coffee. "It's so important for him to be there by the Situation Room, in constant touch with what is happening, making the difficult decisions on Iran and Afghanistan.

"Decisions," Mrs. Carter reminded them, "he can't make on a campaign plane."

Nobody ever asked her about that other decision, the one some in Chicago's Jewish community saw as precipitating a growing crisis over American foreign policy in the Middle East. But then it hadn't been necessary. Rosalynn Carter was quick to beat her audiences to the punch by bringing up Jimmy Carter's repudiation of the affirmative vote cast by the United States last weekend on the U.N. resolution condemning Israeli settlement policy. Carter disavowed the resolution, he said later, because it included Jerusalem among the occupied territories Israel holds.

"An unfortunate vote," she said Thursday at her first campaign appearance in Chicago in preparation for Illinois' March 18 primary. It was also the first time she had been back in Chicago since October, when she marched in a Columbus Day parade with Mayor Jane Byrne, who later came out for Kennedy.

Still, Mrs. Carter would say, the sequence of her words varying as the days progressed but never their sentiment, "I was proud that the president, regardless of the political consequences was honestly saying as soon as he found out about it that it was a mistake."

No, she would reassure them, Jimmy Carter had worked too long, too hard hammering out that Middle East peace treaty. He would never do anything to jeopardize that.

Later, she talked about the reaction she had encountered and remembered noticing one woman in that sea of faces who had seemed more upset than the others.

"But I think she understood," Mrs. Carter said, perching informally on the arm of a seat aboard Executive One carrying her back to Washington Thursday night. "I think she understood that it was a mistake and that these things can happen. And I think that she believes Jimmy is honest."

Not everybody, of course, brought her message.

Herbert Stoltze, a biology professor at Northeastern Illinois University, called it "a blunder"; Phyllis Levin of Skokie felt "disenfranchised"; Mel Siegel of Chicago "plan sick."

But like the 150 others Rabbi Sol Gutstein invited over in the afternoon to meet Mrs. Carter, there seemed to be an effort to avoid confrontation. In putting the event together, Gutstein, a former alderman from the working-class Jewish Albany Park area, said the feedback after the U.N. vote had been "somewhat mixed. Some people felt Carter was honest enough saying he'd made a mistake. Others, of course, wondered if it was indicative of a change in policy."

Russell Weinberg, a Chicago restaurant owner, put it quite simply, "They screwed up, but what's disturbing is they cast a vote then later say they misunderstood. No they didn't misread that resolution. It was the hue and cry of people who red it that they misread."

"The choices," said his wife, Renee, without quite naming Jimmy Carter and Ted Kennedy, "aren't that terrific."

Statistically, Chicago's Jewish vote may account for between 8 and 10 percent of the Democratic primary ballots cast later this month. Statewide, the figure hovers about 7 percent. Not exactly make-or-break potential, but vocal. Like Aaron Goldstein, 79, a retired furniture salesman on a fixed income.

"Why doesn't the president do something about inflation? They say no wage-price controls, and I say what's their alternative?" Goldstein said.

At the name Kennedy he made a face, shrugged his shoulders and, personalized the 5-1 odds some Illinois pollsters are giving Carter over Ted Kennedy. Nor did Goldstein try to disguise his disgust that nobody asked Rosalynn Carter the hard questions -- or, for that matter, any questions at all.

He found her interpretations to the Devon-Sheridan Senior Citizens group on the economy, foreign policy, health care, energy, among others, "doubletalk -- soap to the citizens. I never voted in a primary in my life," Goldstein said, "but I'm going to vote for John Anderson."

Anderson, the Illinois Republican, was a name that echoed along behind Mrs. Carter throughout the day, if not exactly threateningly, at least provocatively. Illinois is one of the few states permitting crossover voting in the primary if party declaration is made.

At a "nonpolitical" awards luncheon featuring Mrs. Carter, Joan Harris of Highland Park said, "I only wish Jimmy Carter had grown the way Rosalynn Carter has."

Elaine Lisberg of Skokie wasn't so sure. Looking at Rosalynn Carter seated on the dais and later handshaking her way through the crowded banquet hall, she noted a golden cast to the first lady's hair that hadn't been apparent four years earlier. No doubt about the "package" -- how Rosalynn Carter looked -- being different from 1976, when Lisberg, a Carter volunteer, had provided her with campaign wheels.

"But the message is absolutely the same," said Lisberg. "God, family, love -- grass roots. They've built a whole network of intimate relationships, and for the campaign that's perfect. But I think they have lacked sophistication because the more structured you get, the further removed you get from people. And nobody is able to transfer for you what you want to accomplish in the conduct of government."

Luncheon host Chicago publisher Lou Lerner, Carter's man in Oslo until he resigned in January, cleared his throat at the mention of the U.N. Israeli settlement vote. Its effect on Carter's Jewish vote March 18?

"All I can say is there's an explanation, but it's not going to help. I spoke at a Jewish gathering the other night and 99 percent of them expected my explanation, accepted it and didn't press me. Having worked for the State Department for three years, anything that happens wouldn't surprise me."

But Lerner, who is running as a Carter delegate in Chicago's lakefront high-rise, predominantly Jewish ninth district, was troubled.

"Let me tell you, it was unfortunate," he said. "There's a feeling about it. People are unhappy, though they don't always verbalize."

Later, jammed in the crush at Rabbi Gutstein's reception, Phyllis Levin listened quietly as Rosalynn Carter told the crowd that "our position is the same . . . it has not changed . . . we think the [West Bank] settlements are illegal . . ."

Levin did not try to hide her despondency.

"They're still talking about splitting Jerusalem," she said. "It's still open to discussion -- according to the president's lady. She said the settlements are illegal.

"For the first time in my life, I feel disenfranchised."