The man with the radio in his ear fairly flew down the steps of the Embassy Row Hotel, his charge racing by his side.

"I'm whirling around," said CIA Director William Casey, as his Secret Service escort dashed for the door.

"All my friends are in town -- it's going to be a gay weekend," Casey said, and was off to his next engagement.

These days, invitations are stacked up like planes over National on a bad night, and a good portion of the 80 or so guests at last night's 18th-birthday party for the conservative magazine The American Spectator showed up for cocktails in black tie. Even in the midst the business suits, they carried themselves with aplomb -- this weekend, black tie is as common around town as waiters bearing trays of monster shrimp.

Last night, there were monster shrimp, balloons and:

* Spectator editor and syndicated columnist R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. "We were going to get together to celebrate the liberal crackup," he said, "but we decided that that was a little too egotistical."

* Mass mail man and recently announced GOP candidate for Virginia lieutenant governor Richard Viguerie. "I haven't seen my wife but one day in 10 in the last 10 days," he said. "This is my last weekend away from the campaign."

* Public relations executive, former partner of White House Deputy Chief of Staff Michael K. Deaver and tuxedo wearer Peter Hannaford. He was on his way to another party and said, "Two or three things a night. I'm glad it only happens every four years."

* Heritage Foundation president Edwin Feulner. He walked up to a friend and said, "What's the latest? Who's hired and fired?"

* White House director of public liaison Faith Whittlesey, said to be about to leave the White House for a diplomatic position. She said, "I think we have made tremendous progress. I think the president has shown extraordinary leadership."

The approaching inauguration, like some strange planet, is exerting its gravitational pull upon Washington events in a variety of ways.

The Spectator, based in Bloomington, Ind., and New York City, traveled all the way to Washington for its birthday party. Three New York Times reporters came to the Spectator party, surely a record for such an event. And most of the heavy-hitting guests -- Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, U.N. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, White House counselor Edwin Meese, Energy Secretary Donald Hodel and Treasury Secretary Donald Regan -- didn't show, although many of them had promised to be there. Gravity had, doubtless, pulled them elsewhere.

"These are all intellectuals here," Tyrrell said of the guests he had earlier called "the conservative homeless." "Intellectuals used to be terribly boring, but they're getting more interesting. These people have no homes in American culture. The only place you can find a berth as an American conservative today is in a government bureaucracy.

"It's the saddest story I know," he said. "How about an affirmative action program in the universities that advances not only women and blacks, but these poor pointy-heads who believe in equal oportunity and the democratic process?"

The poor pointy-heads around him laughed, the lapels of their tuxedos glistening.