On his first social stop of the evening, President Reagan received a 40-carat hors d'oeuvre--gusty cheers of "We Want Reagan" and "Four More Years" served by the leadership of the Republican Party.

"You know I can't answer that now," said Reagan, appearing at the farewell party for outgoing Republican National Committee Chairman Richard Richards. "But thanks very much."

As the band played a brisk medley of Broadway show tunes--"76 Trombones" and the like--the president shook hands along a chain. "Stay on and run again," Richard Deeb, chairman of the Republican Party in Pinellas County, Florida, managed to say. "He's doing a great job, and I say that as a businessman and party leader. I like what he said about abolishing the corporate income tax. And my business, construction, is starting back."

Though Richards had a controversial two-year tenure, he received nothing but accolades from Reagan, Vice President George Bush, Interior Secretary James Watt, former national security adviser Richard Allen and 300 others at the Washington Hilton last night. As a departure gift, Richards received an invoice, stamped "paid-in-full", for his office furniture--which he is taking to his new law office in Georgetown.

His strengthening of the local organizations across the country, said Watt, was a needed emphasis. His expansion into international organizations was critical, said Allen. "Consequently the Republican Party now has an international dimension," said Allen, a senior consultant to the RNC. "Just today we had a meeting at the White House with the members of the European Democrat Union Delegation," a group of conservatives. Bush, a participant in that meeting, said, "We got sound advice on how to walk a delicate line in Europe."

As a former chairman of the party, Bush was able to walk along the chain rope and greet almost everyone by name. "The weather is warm in Maine," shouted Hattie Bickmore, a former state chairman, as she kissed the vice president and teased him about his vacation state. "Oh, stop that," retorted Bush. "Don't kiss me or I'll tell your wife," warned fullback-sized Tommy Thomas, the Florida Republican finance chairman. "I'm going to call Anita Bryant if he gets fresh with me."