Ed Mason wasn't all that eager to go to the Republican National Convention in the first place. Then, when the last of Ronald Reagan's challengers gave up the fight for the presidential nomination, Mason's feeble enthusiasm for the job of delegate disappeared entirely.

Too late. Eight thousand and twenty-seven Western Maryland Republicans had already voted to send Cumberland's state senator to the convention in Detroit. There, Mason will cast his vote to nominate Reagan, a man whose staunch conservatism leaves moderates like Mason feeling ill at ease.

"I don't see much more to it than going out there for four or five days and having a good time," Mason said recently. "If they [the convention managers] want something done, they can call. I'd stay home if I could. But I was elected and I have a responsibility."

Since Reagan carried four of the state's eight congressional districts -- including Mason's -- and the state as a whole in the May 13 primary, that responsibility includes voting for the former California governor. But, when it comes to personal preference, the Maryland delegation is divided fairly evenly between the old-line moderates who represent the state party's traditions and the new, slightly younger conservatives.

Like good soldiers, those Maryland delegates who have long adhered to a more moderate philosophy are dutifully lining up behind Reagan and the conservatives in the name of party unity. But their step is not jaunty and their words are not gay.

"My sole reason for going would be trying to support George Bush (for the vice-presidential nomination)," said Montgomery County delegate Jane Gude. "Don't think I'm not enthusiastic, but -- how can I put it? -- Reagan is not my kind of man."

Not everyone feels the same, she added."Some of them are so excited that they're counting the minutes till they get there."

Count Lynda Love among these. Like two-thirds of her fellow-delegates, the Anne Arundel County realtor has been to a national convention before, but she is far from jaded. She has worked for Reagan, one way or another, for six years, sending letters, ringing doorbells, pleading her cause. This convention is the moment of her vindication.

"I am just so proud to be able to participate," she said recently, self-conscious about her fervor but fervid nonetheless.

Or, as Love's fellow Reagan supporter Frances Eagen said, "I really wanted to go to the convention because that's history being made there and I want to be part of it. For the first time in a long time the Republicans are unified. Not everyone gets to go. Not everyone gets to be a part of it."

In Maryland, 181 people apparently wanted to, wanted to enough to put their names on the ballot in the eight congressional districts and leave them there through election day.

Of these, 24 were elected by Republicans who went to the polls May 13, while the state party convention chose the six at-large delegates two weeks later in Ocean City.

It was not always an equal contest. For those would-be delegates who lived in the black sections of Baltimore City, where Republicans are rarer than country clubs, election could be won with 800 or 900 votes. But in Montgomery County, 16,000 votes were needed to win a seat in Detroit.

Then there were the flukes. Like Charles Wellman Mitchell, a young, white public-relations consultant from Baltimore City, who just happens to share a surname with the members of the city's most powerful black political dynasty. Or Lawrence J. Hogan Jr., the 24-year-old who just happens to share a name with his boss and father, Prince George's County's popular county executive.

These two are the youngest members of the delegation; at the other end of the scale is Gen. James P. S. Devereux, 77, who was Baltimore County's congressman during the Eisenhower years and who hasn't been to a convention since 1956.

"This is my last go-around and I want to see what I can do for my country," said Devereux. He doesn't know too many of his fellow delegates, but he has particularly kind words for Marjorie Holt, the 59-year-old who is running for a fifth term this year. "She's a very sensible young woman," Devereux remarked.

There are 13 women and 17 men among them, two blacks and 28 whites, nine elected officials and 21 mostly rear-guard party workers: central committee members in this county or that, precinct chairmen, Young Republican executives hoping for something better, and one-time Young Republican luminaries who never got much further in the party.

The top priority for most of the Maryland delegation, insofar as they have any political priorities, is the selection of George Bush as Ronald Reagan's running mate. But most are also fascinated by the accumulation of invitations that has magically appeared in their mailboxes since their elections. Invitations to the Star-Spangled Dinner, to the Republican Women's lunch, and much more.

"The whole thing is a social affair," mused first-time delegate Virginia Church, a Harford County music teacher whose highest party job thus far has been the secretaryship of the Harford County Republican Central Committee. "There are plenty of people who would give their eyeteeth to go. It's part of their social life."

"There's not going to be anything to do but go out and crown the king and whoever he wants for vice president," said Ed Mason. "I can't see making a big to-do about it myself. We might as well have a good time."