You could tell by the elevators in the John Marshall Hotel early this morning that the Democrats had been there and gone.

Candidates' posters drooped from their masking tape. "THE HOTTEST TIME IN TOWN TONIGHT!" promised one of Chuck Robb's, adding intimately, ". . . your chance to really talk with Chuck." Henry and Betty Howell's offered roast beef and champagne, Andy Miller's music and television and numerous other notified everyone of hospitality "9 p.m. until???"

The Democrats' annual Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner, a combination fund raiser and pep rally, attracted about 700 of the party faithful to Richmond this weekend, about half of whom actually attended the $50-a-plate dinner.

Like most of these events, the dinner itself was not the real reason for coming. Nobody comes to Richmond to eat Delmonico steak and broccoli and listen to featured speakers such as this year's guest, Lt. Gov. W. Brantley Harvey Jr. of South Carolina - a man generally referred to among the guests as "who?"

They come instead to see and be seen, line up supporters for candidates and talk publicly about party unity. But before and after the official speeches and the traditional calls for putting petty rivalries aside and beating the Republicans in November, talk in the hospitality suites, halls and meeting rooms reflected the inevitatable intraparty warfare accentuated by pre-primary election excitement.

"Look, making these tickets $50 each instead of $25 like last year cuts down on the number of Henry's supporters because they aren't the rich people," said central committee member George Rawlings, a supporter of former Lt. Gov. Henry Howell's bid for the gubernatorial nomination. "We knew Henry was going to be the man of the hour here," said a Howell staffer, "but he wanted to come here like a gentleman. If it had been up to me I would have had a counter picnic outside."

There were, indeed, more "It's Miller Time" buttons than Howell buttons seen, but perhaps an equal number of Democrats wore neither. Somewhere between 800 and 1,000 people visited Miller's statewide campaign kickoff in Richmond's Coliseum a few blocks from the hotel. But it was impossible to tell who were supporters and who were the curious.

"I'm for Miller because I'm reasonably conservative, even though I sell Schlitz," said Bobby Harrell from Suffolk. "And anyway, there's no way I'd vote for Howell."

And so it went.

The day started with a meeting of the steering committee, which voted to adopt a budget that strips party chairman Joseph T. Fitzpatrick of his roughly $11,000-a-year salary and gives him instead $4,000 a year in expenses and an $18,000-a-year executive secretary.

The move is part of an effort of "enhancing the efficiency and financial viability of the party organization," as a special task force report stated, which sources said has been hotly debated among steering committee members over a month.

The financial woes of the party have been subject of concern for sometime as more expenses are incurred and less money is coming in. "We've spent money we did not have," said the ninth district's Pat Jennings during the steering committee metting.

The $95,710 budget anticipates a profit of at least $25,000 from the J. J. Day Dinner - but since fewer tickets were sold than expected the party will probably only break even on the fund raiser.

The festivities didn't really start until after the committee meetings. At 2 p.m. Howell, flanked by an American flag and equipped with the special Jefferson-Jackson Day edition of "Plain Talk," his campaign newsletter, held a press conference.

He said he was going to disclose the names of all contributors to his campaign - next week. Then he read excepts from letters he had received to illustrate that many of his contributions are coming from "small contributors.

"I am sorry I don't have anything to send you at the present; you see I am disabled," went one letter. "Here is a modest contribution towards your campaign," went another. "It is all I can afford. Taxes are so high this year we cannot even afford to send the kids to the dentist."

Two hours later, Miller and his wife Doris walked down the steep staircase to the coliseum floor lit by a spotlight and accompanied by a blaring rock rendition of Miller's campaign song.

"Andy Miller really cares," goes the song, "It's Andy Miller time."

At the end of the committee meeting, party secretary Tom Reston announced he would be resigning to become a deputy assistant secretary of state for public affairs in the Carter administration.

"I was fortunate that I had a lot of offers from the government," Reston told the crowd, adding he was accepting the State Department job because "I think I can help them" in "keeping in touch with the people."

"The Democratic party in Virginia is in trouble," he sid, urging the group to develop a "coalition of conscience."

"The degradation and pollution of human suffering is something this party should address itself to," he continued," . . . Rid this state once and for all of Byrdism . . ."

After complimenting Fitzpatrick for encouraging young people and reminding those critical of the party chairman that he has "had a difficult job in one of the most embittered and factionalized situations," Reston promised his fellow-Democrats he would return.

"I'm going to be back to use my influence on behalf of those who are broken and abandoned and left by the wayside in this commonwealth," he concluded.

Then the group adjourned to begin partying.

The Young Democrats offered "all the daiquiris you can drink." Ira Lechner, a candidate for lieutenant governor, had strawberries and pastries. His supporters wore instead of the traditional political button, tiny silhouettes of little green feet to accent Lechner's image as "the walking candidate."

Richard (Major) Reynolds, another lieutenant governor aspirant, had a piano player in his hospitality suite and a band on a flatbed truck outside the hotel which didn't attract many listeners. Miller pulled in quite a crowd with a country-western band and by late evening there was some high spirited footstomping going on.

Howell's suite had a more elegant note with candles and California champagne and roast beef that he announced at intervals was provided by the meatcutter's union. Occasionally Howell would whistle sharply to draw the crowd's attention to a notable guest.

"Here's Herb Harris, one of the great congressmen," he said at one such introduction, "And his wife Nancy, if she's here!"

The halls and elevators were packed, as partygoers went up and down to check out hospitality suites.

"There doesn't seem to be much action in the (congressional) district parties this year," complained a woman in a long gold-spangled dress. "I guess everything is happening on the mezzanine."

A packed elevator opened at one floor and closed before those waiting for it could get in. "There's that ass . . .," said one state senator in the elevator when he spotted an old rival who has voiced renewed political ambitions. "I purposely looked aside."

After the dinner, during which House Majority Leader James M. Thomson called on the troops to beat the Republican gubernatorial candidate, "that popeyed little Johnny Dalton," Betty Worley stayed behind as the guests filed out of the room to begin their rounds of hospitality suites.

For the past four years Betty Worley has been Fitzpatrick's assistant, but her job was abolished under the new efficiency program adopted by there will be the $18,000-a-year executive the state central committee. Now secretary and an $8,800-a-year secretary. She found out she'd be leaving a month ago, she said, but stayed on to see the Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner through.

"I'm not bitter, I'm really not," she said as the waiters cleared tables. "I'm over that . . . this job has been an interesting experience, I'll say that. But, of course, there are so many pressures . . . I don't think I want a job in politics again.

"You know, Joe [Fitzpatrick] said that when someone's been in power for a while everyone goes against him, just because he's been there. They're all trying to get Joe, but he'll never give up. He was elected, he deserves to serve his term. It isn't fair for them all to get after him. I'm really not bitter . . . I hope they get as much work out of this executives secretary as they've gotten out of me for $125 a week." She sighed and gathered up the flower centerpieces from the head table.