Supporters of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy officially opened their District of Columbia presidential campaign headquarters yesterday, but the announcement was made through forced smiles in light of Kennedy's defeat Tuesday in the New Hampshire primary.

"People asked why we would open a headquarters the day after a loss," said City Council member John Ray (D-At Large), who is Kennedy's Washington campaign chairman.

"Well, I can't think of a better time to make a formal announcement than today. We're in this campaign to win, and I think we can still win."

Rick Stearns, Kennedy's national delegate coordinator, said that reading the New Hampshire results in yesterday's newspaper was "a bit like the man who reads his own obituary -- you start feeling around for some sign of life."

Stearns said he believes, however, that "the vital signs are all there," and cited as one of them the opening of the local headquarters at 13th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, near the District building.

About 25 persons attended the opening to hear the somewhat subdued words of encouragement from such prominent local Kennedy supporters as City Council members Ray, Betty Ann Kane (D-At Large), and Nadine Winter (D-Ward 6).

"Most of us fight better when our backs are against the wall," Winter said. "It's not in the numbers all the time. It's how efficient you are, how well you get your strategy together."

Longtime D.C. Democratic Party activist Joseph Rauh said, "It would be silly not to admit we've lost a couple of rounds. But the fight goes for 15 rounds, and I honestly can tell you I think we're going to be victorious." 1

Stearns said the outcome in New Hampshire was "pretty much expected." He added that Kennedy planned to campaign extensively in the coming primaries in Alabama and Florida, and hoped to make major progress in the New York primary on March 25.

He said Kennedy hoped to demonstrate some support among blacks in the southern primaries, but added that a victory in the District of Columbia primary, to be held May 6, would be "a considerable dividend."

President Carter's District campaign headquarters was opened last month in a ceremony attended by more than 150 people.

Carter campaign officials also said at the time they believed winning in the District's primary would be an important indicator of black support.