ORLANDO, FLA., NOV. 15 -- Pat Robertson delegates swarmed throughout the Peabody Hotel on Saturday. Everywhere, that is, except the lobby bar, leaving that watering hole to more secular politicos at the Florida Republican Party convention shoot-out between Robertson and Vice President George Bush.

Wearing T-shirts with a hand print on the back and the slogan "Back Pat," they busily crafted homemade signs embracing everyone, including "Unborn babies for Robertson." They sold tapes of "Pat Robertson's Vision for America" and his campaign song ("For God and Country, Pat Robertson's for Me"). They amassed balloons and confetti for their floor demonstration and said "God bless," even to reporters.

When it was over, the TV evangelist-turned- presidential-candidate garnered 36 percent of the votes in a straw poll widely characterized as stacked in favor of the vice president since 42 percent of the nearly 2,500 delegates were automatically selected party officials. Once again -- after ambushing Bush in recent tests of organization strength in Iowa, Michigan and South Carolina -- Robertson followers poured forth in such numbers that they took 10 counties, including such biggies as Palm Beach and Broward. Both camps spent heavily on this symbolic battle, a beauty contest that has no official bearing on Florida's Super Tuesday primary vote. But Bush aides concede that Robertson could win the opening round in Iowa, the highly prized caucus state.

For along with Robertson -- who built a strong power base through his Christian Broadcasting Network -- has come a fervent, single-minded neophyte brigade that -- at least for the moment -- is changing the face of Republican presidential politics.

Old-time party regulars in their pin-stripe suits and Bush buttons liken the Robertson phenomenon to Barry Goldwater's minions who appeared from nowhere in 1964, and the Moral Majority newcomers who backed Ronald Reagan in 1980. Many Robertson devotees had never been inside a polling booth, never been to a precinct meeting B.R. (before Robertson). The party line was to speak no evil about them; officials praised them for revitalizing the Republican Party with new blood and for bringing former Democrats into the fold. "They're all wonderful new people," burbled longtime party activist Alyse O'Neill. "They are babies -- but they're here! Some people say, 'But Alyse, he's a Christian,' and I say, 'So what? Some people active in this party are Mafia. Doesn't that worry you?' "

Others were not so embracing. Eugene Dale, a Bob Dole supporter, was voting for Robertson since Dole had not campaigned actively here, "but just so Bush won't get that vote." Like many here, he kept calling Robertson "Robinson": "If Robinson was a serious candidate I wouldn't vote for him." And Ernestine Jones, a Bush delegate, said, "I don't like Robertson. He's all right for a preacher but not president. His people have never even voted before and I think they're damaging to the party." And Bush delegate Norma Hernandez, a Cuban Catholic now living in Tampa, said, "If you're going to preach God, preach God. If you're going to be a president, be a president. I am not for mixing religion and politics."

Recent Florida polls show front-runner Bush extremely vulnerable, with soft support, while Robertson's is rock-bottom solid. However, Dole or Jack Kemp would likely pick up Bush's support should he stumble, not Robertson. The former TV preacher continues to create much distress among mainstream voters. A recent Mason-Dixon poll of Florida Republicans expected to vote in the March 8 Super Tuesday primary showed nearly 3 out of 5 would not vote for Robertson "under any circumstances." When Robertson's polling data showed that people were turned off by his speaking in tongues and praying to God to turn away hurricanes and cure everything from cancerous tumors to fallen arches, Robertson dropped the "reverend" from his title and emphasized his business skills.

This all makes sense to many of his delegates, who patiently explain that you need the gift of faith to understand what Robertson's really all about. Says delegate Jeanne Walker, a secretary and mother of three who was born again 14 years ago, "I can tell you all about healing." Her son, she said, was cured of asthma after "the preacher told my husband and I to lay our hands on his chest and back. I had a nephew healed from leukemia. My mother-in-law was on dialysis and she's off. My father-in-law had open-heart surgery and was healed and is now 100 percent off his medication. You can hear Pat Robertson praying on television and put your hand on that TV. Some people need that point of contact to get their faith into motion." Robertson, she said, has a "special gift; some people don't have this faith to hear from God. He knows how to hear."

Robert Plimpton of Palm Beach, hard to miss with his two-foot-high Robertson sign and hat on his head, said solemnly, "Pat had word of knowledge about my receiving $100,000. I was watching 'The 700 Club' {Robertson's TV show} and I was praying for this $100,000 owed me. And right then Pat said, 'There's a man praying for $100,000 and he's going to get it.' I jumped up! Just the day before the man said he'd never pay off, and that very next day he did. Yessir, Pat had the word of knowledge.' "

Robertson delegates repeatedly stress that they are for him because of his "dedication to old-fashioned values" such as family and prayer in school. In his convention speech Saturday, Robertson drew big cheers from them with his shouted criticism of "radical homosexuals," whom, he said, New York City Mayor Ed Koch ("a Democratic mayor") had made "a protected minority. I have no intention of giving the streets of America to the radical homosexuals, the criminals and the drug dealers." Said one delegate after his speech, "Conservatives are so tired of being beaten down by minority groups."

They cheered when Robertson attacked Ted Kennedy, the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Education Association. Many of his delegates believe creationism should be taught in public schools and cheered heavily when Robertson said, "I want once again to bring God back into the classrooms of America."

Robertson seems to be on fertile ground with the segment of Republican voters identified by Gallup as the "Moralists." Likely to make up 14 percent of the 1988 voters, they are 99 percent Republican, constituting one of the strongest Republican blocs in the country. Middle-aged, middle income and heavily concentrated in the South, they are strongly antiabortion and pro school prayer; they favor the death penalty and a quarantine of AIDS victims, and are strongly anticommunist and pro defense.

Meanwhile, in his convention speech, George Bush was attempting to dewimp himself as a "man who fought in combat, in this tough battle against tyranny, World War II. Shot down in combat two months after my 20th birthday"; a man "not willing to cut and run when the going gets tough."

Dade County, Miami and its environs, is now heavily populated with Republican Cuban and Nicaraguan exiles, and communist-bashing has been elevated to a political art form in south Florida politics. Bush railed against the Soviets and said how "proud" he was that "we kicked Castro out of Grenada. How well I remember the cheering crowds that greeted me after our liberation of the island {crying} 'Yankee don't go home.' " The Dade delegation leaped to its feet when Bush said, "I will never leave the {Nicaraguan} contras twisting in the wind."

Until now, Bush has had a lock on Dade County, where he first campaigned in 1980. The 248-member delegation voted 202 for Bush and 39 for Robertson. However, Robertson weighed in with an anecdote about a Nicaraguan woman who had been "repeatedly raped" by Sandinistas and then, voice dripping with sarcasm, spoke of a letter written by Speaker of the House Jim Wright to Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, addressing him as "Dear Comandante." The day before, Robertson spoke in a Miami suburb, nicknamed Little Managua and known as contra country, pledging to support an armed invasion of Nicaragua by anti-Sandinista rebels. He spoke at Los Ranchos, the restaurant owned by the nephew of former Nicaraguan president Anastasio Somoza, who was overthrown by the Sandinistas in 1979.

This much impressed Bush delegate Iloy Gonzalez of the Latin Chamber of Commerce of Kendall, a Miami suburb. "That means he's on our side -- which is always against the communists in any country in the world!"

But for many of the fervently religious who make up Robertson's power base, foreign policy is something of a mystery. Jeanne Walker echoed the thoughts of many Robertson delegates as she rolled her eyes. "I can read it but I don't understand a lot of it," she said. "But I know {Robertson} does."

The question for the future is how much support Robertson's followers will give the Republican Party if he does poorly in the primaries. Much depends on what he would ultimately tell them to do.

When asked if they could support any other candidate, Robertson delegates invariably respond with blank looks and such phrases as "I honestly don't know."

They were here for Saturday's convention, propelled out of their churches, for one reason and one reason alone.

They were thinking no further ahead than Pat Robertson.