It was your basic homecoming, an old-fashioned pep rally disguised as a fancy dress, $1,500-a-plate Democratic gala billed as a "Celebration of Victory."

On hand was a panoply of recent winners -- the new team captains, you could say. Senator-elect Paul Wellstone of Minnesota. Governors-elect Barbara Roberts of Oregon and Joan Finney of Kansas. Representative-elect Jim Moran of Virginia. D.C. Mayor-elect Sharon Pratt Dixon. President-elect Michael Dukakis.

Whoops. A little reminder, there, about the dangers of overconfidence. The lame-duck governor was greeted and treated warmly, but at the 12th annual Democratic National Committee do, held at the Sheraton Washington Hotel ballroom last night, all eyes were on the party's future and 1992, suddenly looking rosy.

The pre-prandial slide show included no photos of Dukakis, or Walter Mondale or Jimmy Carter; there was a jaunty, beefcake shot of John Kennedy Jr.

"I don't want to talk about the past," said DNC Chairman Ron Brown, "but look to the future."

The party raised a record $2.7 million, almost breaking even after a $3 million fall campaign, DNC Treasurer Bob Farmer said. The Democrats also had 2,000 people jammed into the gloriously decorated ballroom -- 100 more than are allowed.

"But don't tell the fire marshal," whispered Farmer.

Traditionally, this annual black tie event is held before elections. Pep rallies usually precede the big game. This year, the Dems switched it to a post-election "victory" party, and the newly elected officials were all quite pleased. "I can't imagine a candidate giving up three days to do an out-of-town event right before an election," said Roberts.

The objects were still the same, however -- to raise beaucoup bucks and fire up the troops. And by night's end, both were accomplished. There was an air of carnival, and a swagger in the speeches.

"Isn't it great to be a Democrat?" bellowed Brown in his opening remarks. "Last Tuesday was a marvelous day for the Democratic Party and for our country, because we took back the agenda. America is now looking at our issues. And I would like to say that I take the credit for all the victories last week. But I can't. We must also thank George Bush and those Republicans. He helped us to define ourselves.

"This election was a repudiation of George Bush and a repudiation of Reaganomics," he continued. "I think we are ready to jump-start our country and jump-start our economy!"

Following Melba Moore's skin-prickling rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner," Brown introduced the recent winners and had them line up like a football team at the end of the gymnasium. Some were old stalwarts, making somewhat triumphant returns, like Al Gore of Tennessee and Bill Bradley of New Jersey. Others were brand new to Washington and full of chutzpah. Like Wellstone. He leapt on stage, hugged Brown with all his might and threw his arms in the air like Rocky Balboa.

In the last year, Wellstone said, "Nelson Mandela walked from jail ... the Berlin Wall came tumbling down ... and in Minnesota, we defeated Rudy Boschwitz and elected a Democrat!"

The room erupted with cheers and whistles and applause.

"I believe that historians will write that just as the '20s gave way to the '30s," he chanted, "and the '50s gave way to the '60s, the '80s will give way to the '90s. We will move this country forward. ... Politics is not prediction but what we can imagine. What we can accomplish."

Ah, freshmen.