She was in her early 20s and she was an Anderson staffer. She was well aware of the slogan -- A Vote for Anderson is a Vote for Anderson -- and she was well aware of the numbers, which weren't good. She'd known her candidate was dead in the water since the debate with Reagan when he began to go straight south in the polls. Last night she was there when the American public told John Anderson to lie down.

By 8 p.m. she was saying, "It looks like the presidential race is pretty much decided now. I don't think any of us here expected Anderson to win, so we were spared the nail-biting of the other camps. I guess we're here to have a party. I mean, there's no point in feeling sad."

The band all but drowned out her final words. The Vic Simmas Orchestra was going into its first song -- "In the Mood." And whatever the mood was, it certainly wasn't despair.

There were about 500 people at the Anderson party in the Hyatt Regency, and many of them were young and clean. Students. Professionals. People who are more comfortable with a third political party than a Tupperware party. A wine-and-cheese crowd. All kinds of cheeses. Cheddar. Muenster. And of course, Brie. At the cash bar, beer went for $2.25 and wine for $2.50. There were fresh veggies, too, and three large television monitors -- one each for CBS, NBC and ABC. The strange thing was that not too many people here were paying attention. And if they were it was only to see where Anderson's percentage was -- would it be over the magic number of 5, so Anderson could qualify for federal election funds and bail out his $4 million dollar debt?

"How much will he get?" Nancy Duncan wanted to know. "Do you think he'll get over 5?" She was a volunteer from the District, and she was with her friend and fellow volunteer Sarah Lefferts.

"He's got to get that money," Lefferts said.

"He's got to, because I've got to get my loan back," Duncan said.

"Mine's gone down the drain," Lefferts said. "But I gave it willingly."

Lefferts said she'd made her first presidential vote for Al Smith and last night she said, "I'm so glad to be able to vote for someone I like."

Both women laughed as the band swung into "Up a Lazy River," and the returns showed Anderson pulling only a 4 share.

Still, most people weren't paying attention. By 8:35, when Anderson was on the phone congratulating Ronald Reagan on his victory, most of the people here were milling around like it was a college mixer. And the faithful remained so.

"I truly believe he's still convinced he can win," said Dr. Vincent Traina, a longtime friend of Anderson's from Rochelle, Ill., near Rockford, Anderson's home. Traina described himself as "a G.P. who still makes house calls." He shut his office two weeks ago to go on the road with Anderson. "No matter how we do, it's a miracle. He won't give up. Once we discussed it. He told me if Churchill listened to the polls in WWII he'd have said 'let's quit' -- but he didn't, neither will John."

By 9 the band was into "You Make Me Feel So Young" and one staffer, commenting on why no one was paying attention to the monitors said, "It may be that the thought that we'll win is so absurd, there's no point watching."

As the sets poured on the Reagan numbers, one man said in amazement, "Everybody's voting for Reagan." And his friend, drink in hand, turned to him and said, "Who knows, after a couple of drinks, maybe I'll vote for Reagan."

Greg Hobbs, a civil engineer from Colorado who was in town on business anyway, said, "It really surprises me. I thought he'd at least get 10. I guess people walked into that booth and said, 'We're a two-party country. Why waste a vote?' I'll tell you what, if he doesn't go to 5 quickly, drinks are gonna go for $4.50."

The band played on.

And at 9 p.m., he was hanging on at 5.

At 10:20 CBS had him at 6, and a big cheer went up from the more than 1,000 people who now jammed the hall. Someone shouted "Oh yeah. Let's lower the beer prices." They were legitimately happy. The band was very loud now, and people were dancing. It was almost a victory party.

At 10:45, after campaign chairwoman Mary Crisp and Anderson's running mate, Patrick Lucey, had spoken, Anderson took the microphone and was positively beaming.

He started by quoting H.G. Wells, who said "an election should be a celebration of democracy." Anderson said, "Your response tonight indicates this is a celebration." And the people cheered.

When he said he would not be the next president, but "that is a decision deferred," the people chanted "'84, '84, '84."

He then quoted Lincoln, whom he said sufferd many defeats: "I am disappointed, yes. But I am not bruised." And coming off that quote Anderson said, "I am not bruised in spirit or in mind."

And Anderson, whose euphoria set the tone for the crowd, knew how to make them laugh. "It's been the greatest experience of my life. I'm hoping we hold at 6 percent so it doesn't become the most expensive."