The banquet-goers were finishing prime rib dinners as their favorite senator, conservative Harry F. Byrd Jr. of Virginia, regaled them with stories of how the new Republican Senate will deal a fast death to liberal legislation next year.

But silence fell moments later as the crowd, made up of doctors who contributed heavily to conservative candidates this year, listened to one of the country's top GOP political strategists give the faithful a very different message.

Edward S. DeBolt, the Arlington-based consultant credited with a half-dozen conservative victories in this year's congressional races, warned that last Tuesday's results were not a public endorsement of conservatism but rather a rejection of the status quo. "The public expects change," said DeBolt." All we conservatives have been given is a very short option or a lease on the country's emotions and approval for maybe two years.

"By then we've got to see a change in things such as unemployment and inflation or else we'll be rejected as well. It's a very, very sobering position to be in."

DeBolt likened GOP triumphs this year to 1952, when the Eisenhower landslide gave Republicans control of both the White House and Congress. The party went on to lose Congress two years later because the public's expectations were not realized, he said.

"I don't want to put a damper on your celebration, but to believe that our job is anywhere but just beginning is to delude yourself," warned DeBolt. o

DeBolt's DCM Group engineered Rep. Steve Symms' upset victory over Idaho Sen. Frank Church, as well as the successful House campaigns of former Richmond Mayor Thomas J. Bliley and GOP challenger Frank Wolf, who defeated Rep. Joseph Fisher of Arlington.

The doctors' group, the Virginia Medical Political Action Committee, and its parent organization, the political action committee of the American Medical Association, helped the cause by giving $10,000 each to Wolf, Bliley and 8th District winner Stanford Parris of Fairfax County.

Nationally, federal records show the parent group and the political committees of various state medical associations gave $1.9 million in direct contributions to conservative presidential and congressional candidates and $135,000 in independent expenditures that aided those candidates.

DeBolt warned the doctors that the Democratic-controlled Virginia General Assembly would attempt to gerrymander both Northern Virginia congressional districts in an effort to oust Wolf and Parris. He told them they would have to be prepared to spend thousands more in the future to save the two new Republican congressmen.

DeBolt, whose organization also conducted some direct-mail operations for Ronald Reagan, said Reagan's base of support never exceeded 40 to 41 percent throughout most of the campaign.

"President Carter had succeeded in making people think that, even though they wanted change, it was too risky to go with an unknown quantity," said DeBolt. "Once they decided they could trust Gov. Reagan, then they felt freed to vote for change."

Byrd's message, interrupted by frequent howls of approval, was easier for the doctors to swallow.

To their delight, he ran down the list of losing Democrats and their GOP replacements, with defeated South Dakota Democrat George McGovern and deposed Judiciary Chairman Edward Kennedy breaking the applause meter. But the doctors reserved their biggest cheer for Byrd's report that Kennedy's national health insurance proposal was dead.