"I've lost 19 pounds," said Rep.-elect Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), a white-haired professor with a Budapest accent. "We went through some tight moments. We lived in a very Republican town, and when we went to vote in the morning, we got a cold and cynical reception. It was just sort of assumed I would go down the drain."

And from his wife, Annette: "He was so depressed on the way home from the polls, so I said, 'There's nothing else to do -- why don't we take our two-year-old grandson to the zoo?'"

So they did. The rest of the country spent the day voting for Republicans.

Last night, in a modest-sized hotel ballroom much too small for the new hordes of Republicans, there was a dinner that quite easily held members of a rare political species: newly elected Democrats who won two Senate and 21 House seats in the Nov. 4 conservative landslide. Survivors.

The Democratic House and Senate Council had asked them over to the Hyatt Regency as part of this week's orientation which includes sessions on how to hire a staff, how to answer the mail and, presumably, how to manage a Scotch and soda at a Washington official social function.

Last night, everyone appeared to be doing quite well.


"Come 4 o'clock, I got a real pit in my stomach," said Rep.-elect Ron Wyden of Oregon. "I felt we'd been running very, very hard, yet in the same way, it was like the tidal wave was moving westward."

Wyden is 31, a co-director of the Oregon Gray Panthers, and so fresh-faced that the woman who seats people in the House dining room asked him yesterday if he were really a congressman. "I had trouble getting in," Wyden said, maybe a little more proudly than sheepishly. "They said 'You're very young -- can you be in Congress?' But the lady was very nice. Almost motherly. I showed her my card."

Wyden, like the other freshman congressmen, moved through the ballroom with more than a touch of an innocent "Gee whiz" air, smiling perhaps because he'd just been elected congressman at an age when a lot of people are just out of medical school. The gleams in the eyes! The warm handshakes! The jockeying!

The jockeying?

"The committee assignments," said veteran Rep. John Breaux from Louisiana. "They all want to be on Appropriations and Ways and Means, because they're the sexiest. And functions like this are the way they make it known. I've talked to three of them tonight about committee assignments. That's all they're going to be doing between now and Jan. 5. And also trying to figure out who's important."


"I felt pretty tense in the election about 7 o'clock in the evening, when Carter got 23 percent of the vote in our state," said Rep.-elect Byron Carter got 23 percent of the vote in our state," said Rep.-elect Byron Dorgan from North Dakota, who looks clean-cut enough to be a state tax commissioner with a national reputation. (He was.) "And then I saw what was happening to the rest of the country," Dorgan added, pointing out that he's had more placid moments than election night.

"But I'd had nine weeks of fried chicken at campaign banquets," he continued, "so my stomach was all right."

Booming over the crowd's din in his usual manner was House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill. He kissed the ladies and told stories, from many moons ago, about his own freshman days on the Hill.

"I talked to these freshmen today," O'Neill began, "and I said, when I was there, back in 1953, old Sam [Rayburn, the former House Speaker] got up and said, 'To get along, you must go along.' And if you made an appointment with Sam, maybe he'd see you three weeks later. But now there's an open-door policy. And the group, years ago, most of them came from their local legislatures. They'd been seasoned. But now, 50 percent of them have never been in public office before. There's a tremendous independence."

And certainly, a tremendous optimism. Here's what Rep.-elect Harold Washington from Illinois said: "Sure, I have grandiose plans. I'm going to run this whole damn thing some day. But right now, I'm just going to learn the ropes.


"I won 51-49 [percent], by 2,800 votes," said Rep.-elect Dave McCurdy from Oklahoma, who didn't know he won until noon on Nov. 5. "I felt like the sole survivor in an earthquake."