Well, you'd be in a good mood, too. "This is the best day I've had in a long time," said President Carter last night, standing on an outdoor patio where also stood several dozen members of Congress -- "a good group of folks who were supporting the president when times were tough," as Robert Strauss put it.

There Carter was, politicking under the green-and-white striped tent sheltering the patio outside the home of the National Theatre's Maurice Tobin and wife Joan. He had won enough delegates in Tuesday's primary sweepstakes to put him over the top in the race for the nomination. And he was feeling secure enough to engage in a little banter with Strauss before an audience of loyal members of Congress.

"When Bob came in from California, I was eager to discuss his mission," said Carter, "to carry the California primary. I asked him how it went." To laughter, Carter noted that Strauss was not as eager to reply. Carter, of course, lost the California primary to Kennedy.

And Strauss was feeling cocky enough to say at one point during his introduction of the president (which Carter "rudely interrupted" -- Strauss' words -- with a few quips), "No wonder Sen. Kennedy twice on Tuesday night to congratulate him on a good fight and never did get through to the senator. Yesterday, however, the senator returned the calls, according to a White House aide.

Last night's party was a thank-you for Carter's very public supporters in the House of Representatives. The few senators invited couldn't make it because they had to work late on a debt-limit extension bill.

"Probably everyone remembered how it looked for us in November and December," Carter told the crowd. He noted that the polls then said his chances were "abysmal."

"The prospects for my victory were very low," he said. "You were the ones who came forth and said,'Mr. President, we're with you' . . . It's that kind of partnership I'll never forget."

Carter said it had not been an easy campaign, but he noted the press had been "very fair."

"The television networks would give about one minute to Bob Dole to talk about me. They'd give one minute to Baker to talk about me. They'd give one minute to Bush to talk about me. They'd give one minute to Reagan to talk about me. They'd give Kennedy at least a minute to talk about me. They'd give Brown one minute to talk about me. Then I got my minute to discuss my inflation rate or my interest rate."

Carter told the group, "I'm really looking forward to campaign season."

"I'm ready to face them all," he said, referring to Reagan -- whom he called a "formidable candidate" -- and independent candidates, whom he did not name.

"Tomorrow after, 'll be meeting with Sen. Kennedy," he said. "Probably, it will just be the two of us. It is my anticipation that he will carry his forces and popularity and strength and delegates and deep belief in issues to the convention."

That, said Carter, "shouldn't cause us fear or concern or trepidation."

Press secretary Jody Powell, also there, said later of the meeting scheduled for today, "No one expects any kind of artificial agreement."

Powell pooh-poohed the notion that the Carter camp might feel some annoyance with Kennedy. "Oh, I don't think there's any, particularly. We've all been through campaigns before."

All those loyal Congress members were talking like they had at least weathered all the rough spots of this campaign.

"I've been wearing this button so long I've got holes in my coat," said Rep. Bill Alexander, chairman of Arkansas Democractic Caucus, fingering his Carter/Mondale badge. Around him, on the patio of the Tobins' northwest home, swirled his House colleagues from California, Texas, Florida and many more, all professing that they knew a good man even when everyone else didn't know he was so good.

"I supported the president back when everybody was talking about a big push in the House for Kennedy," said Rep. Bill Hefner (D-Ark.). He turned to Bill Alexander and grinned. "We don't abandon ship, do we?"

And those were the people the president came to thank -- personally. He systematically stopped to talk to as many of the 100 or so guests as he could. They pumped his hand, holding the handshake long, many talking to him intently as if dispensing words of wisdom.

"I've got a few friends who've been with me a long time," President Carter said, stopping to talk to Rep. Tony Coelho (D-Calif.). "You did very well in my district," said Coelho, whose district is the Fresno central valley area. Carter nodded. A voice in the background, not really in earshot of Carter, added with a laugh, "He didnht carry my district."

Carter said to Coelho, "I'm looking forward to carrying California."

Another congressman appraised the group assembled and said, "You'll see a lot of Californians, Texans, New Yorkers -- we have to carry one of those states."