Carol Foreman, the assistant secretary of agriculture, joked that the candidate was capable of talking upwards of "950 words a minute." Joan Claybrook, administrator of the National Highway Safety Commission, continued the joke, saying the candidate would have to learn to slow down so everybody would know "what the hell she's talking about."

But none of it last night fazed the candidate, Kathleeen O'Reilly, who as one of the country's leading consumer affairs advocates has found there is a lot that has to be said -- and quickly.

O'Reilly is the Democratic candidate for congress in Michigan's second district, up against Republican incumbent Carl Pursell. And last night, some 200 women (and men) in top-level jobs here paid $25 each to help her campaign.

"If you give her money to help her get elected, she'll save you money on food and gas," Foreman's young daughter Rachel read in a prepared statement she insisted that she, and not her mother, composed. "And she will support laws to help women earn more money. She's a good investment for women."

It all happened on the lawn at attorney Cathy Douglas' home, where such stalwarts of the women's movements as, White House consumer affairs adviser Esther Peterson; the staff director to Joan Mondale, Bess Abell; and Joan Ness of the Women's Political Campaign Fund joined to lend OReilly O'Reilly their support.

"I'm particularly interested in the fact that Kathleen is running in Michigan," Claybrook told the crowd, adding ominously that: "I regulate the auto industry and she is one of the smartest people around."

O'Reilly was head of the Consumer Federation of America, succeeding Carol Foreman, until she decided to try her hand at elective politics.

Under discussion was the latest presidential campaign poll, showing Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan neck and neck with 35 percentage points each, but with Carter edging out Reagan among women voters.

"I think it shows the good judgment of women," said Bess Abell, who brought a personal message from Joan Mondale:

"Susan B. Anthony told us there will never be complete equality until women themselves help to make the laws." Everybody there had to support that premise, and some could not help but look around at the high number of women holding top-level government jobs, put there by Jimmy Carter.

If Ronald Reagan won, it looked to some of these Democrats as if there would be a lot of men taking over women's jobs.

"Well," somebody said, "then those women will just have to go home and run for Congress."