Jeane Kirkpatrick is one of those figures who just keep evolving into typical noncandidate candidates for 1988 -- of Teddy Kennedy magnitude.

Consider the party in her honor last night at the Botanic Gardens, given by Robert Keith Gray, who always tries to catch a star on the rise.

"Well," said Gray, contemplating why he was having this black-tie extravaganza, "I just didn't want to end up as the only kid in town who hadn't had a party for her."

Kirkpatrick arrived late to the pop of flashes and the familiar sounds of about 150 Washington power types gushing just in case The Big Run comes along. Among the guests were Attorney General Ed Meese, journalist Nancy Dickerson, Sen. Paul Laxalt (R-Nev.), USIA Director Charles Z. Wick, Sen. Nancy Kassebaum (R-Kan.), and artist Robert Rauschenberg, who is a new client of Gray's public relations firm.

"Yes, I find all this attention very strange," said Kirkpatrick, looking and acting less serious than her photographs often suggest. "I don't understand it. I mean, it's everywhere, isn't it?"

One of several reporters surrounding her asked if she had any rules for surviving in Washington -- a question no politican in his right mind would touch.

"Oh, God no, not me," she said. "I've got rules for striving, not surviving."

She was asked if she was concerned about overexposure, a Washington phenomenon otherwise known as "peaking too early."

"Why?" she said to much laughter. "I don't have any goals where that would be a problem. Overexposure to what? I have said over and over again I just don't intend to run for political office."

Naturally no one believes her.

"I think it's clear that Jeane is a premier political leader in the country," said Republican National Committee Chairman Frank Fahrenkopf Jr., who recently coached Kirkpatrick along when she switched from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party. "It's just not the star quality. I mean, she has a lot of substance. I think when 1988 rolls around, Jeane will be someone who has a great following. What the fallout will be from that will depend on circumstances."

"We don't talk politics," said Kenneth Adelman, director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency and one-time deputy to Kirkpatrick when she was ambassador to the United Nations. "We talk foreign policy. I think all this attention means that her foreign policies have caught on."

Even a token Democrat in the crowd fawned.

"The thing about Jeane," said Sen. Edward Zorinsky (D-Neb.), "is that she never put partisan politics before the well-being of her country . . . A lot of people have slept easier at night when Jeane was at the U.N. knowing they weren't going to be attacked . . . She took a hard line."

Guests mingled under the giant ferns, amid a kaleidoscope of orchids, as waiters floated trays of shrimp. Big shrimp. The humidity would have wilted even the stiffest hairdos. But in the far room where dinner was served, an easy breeze jarred the lighted candles and the Washington Monument cast its glow over the city's party of power.