They called it a fairy tale, a wonderful dream, a political marvel.

"It's kind of like 'Miracle on 34th Street,' " said Adam Dennis, the 26-year-old director of Sharon Pratt Dixon's get-out-the-vote effort. "There is a Santa Claus. There is a Santa Claus."

Early in the evening, before John Ray had conceded defeat, Dixon had given an exultant, not-quite-victory speech to the crowd. But when she appeared again after midnight her remarks were cautionary. "This is no time for division," she told the crowd, "The voters of this town were telling us ... they want this city to come together." She concluded, "We can't celebrate too late, because we've got a lot of work ahead of us."

"We love you" shouted a voice already hoarse from shouting. And Dixon really seemed to hear for the first time the passion in the packed ballroom. Halting her almost somber remarks, she told the crowd, "I love you too."

It was left to Democratic Party Chairman Ron Brown, who appeared with Dixon on the dais, to praise her as "one of the most courageous candidates I've ever seen. It's going to take that kind of courage and tenacity to provide the kind of leadership our city needs."

"Is this a Cinderella story or what?" said Dixon worker Florence Tate. "Is this the little train that could? Girl, we were at 7 percent in the polls!"

But that was a long time ago, or seemed so now. In the last month -- the last two weeks -- there were suddenly so many more volunteers, so many more dollars. "It multiplied so fast," Tate said. "She's gotten more money some days recently than she had gotten in a whole year before."

And of course there were plenty of newcomers there, but plenty of faithful supporters as well. Campaign Manager David Byrd (a diminutive, dapper man of such youth that he gave his age thus: "I'll be 30 in December") began working for Dixon in July of '89, and became manager last December.

"Hey! Did you hear we're all political geniuses?" he called out to Dennis.

"Naah," said Dennis. "We're just the same fools we were yesterday."

But if so, they seemed to enjoy their foolish state.

"It's been a great week!" said Greg Rhett, 32. "A Duke alumna is Miss America and my candidate is mayor of the District of Columbia!" Dixon was his candidate despite the fact he could not vote for her. Rhett lives in Forestville, Md., but got involved in the race because "I go to church in the District, my daughter is in school in the District. I feel like I'm a part of it. My relatives call me up and say, 'What's up with your mayor?' They look at me like I'm like Marion Barry."

Florence Tate turned to the reporters she was leading into Dixon's suite. "Is it Mrs. Mayor or Madame Mayor?" she asked.

Said a cameraman: "It's Ms. Mayor."

Or at least Ms. Candidate, which was good enough for the crowd at the Park Hyatt last night.