The mood was light at Pop's Restaurant in Wheaton yesterday because the politicians who stumbled in from the rain -- bleary-eyed and coffee starved -- for the 8 a.m. get-together were the survivors of one of the most bitter primary battles in Montgomery County's history.

Even County Council President Neal Potter and his chief antagonist, council member Esther Gelman, stood within five feet of one another -- but only with one of Gov. Harry Hughes' state troopers standing between them.

The honchos all showed up for the unity breakfast. First came Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, who shucked his raincoat and dutifully posed for pictures with local candidates while an aide moaned, "No, no -- not under the sign that says 'bar' on it."

Then came state Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs, party chairman Sen. Rosalie S. Abrams (D-Baltimore) and Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein, who shook every hand in the house at least twice. Finally, Hughes breezed in, 30 minutes late because his staff, knowing the festivities wouldn't start without him, had put the event down for 8:30 a.m.

The show stealer, though, was Rep. Michael Barnes, who opened his remarks by saying, "as Elizabeth Taylor said to John Warner, I won't keep you long."

"Welcome to the first day of the rest of your life," said Gene Diamond, Democrat extraordinaire and owner of Pop's, the traditional site for this traditional kiss-and-makeup event, as he greeted County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist.

It was a morning for Democrats to say, "We didn't really mean all those mean things we said about each other in the primary. Now let's go get those nasty Republicans." Or, as Sachs put it: "Sometimes we get so caught up in our own infighting we forget what the other side is all about."

Although the speeches were all upbeat, Abrams seemed to nudge a nerve in Hughes when, after saying he was one of the great governors of this or any century, she added, "Of course, he is low-key, he is soft-spoken, he is deliberative and sometimes we have a hard time getting him to make a commitment."

Hughes, standing behind Abrams, looked bemused by Abrams' comments and couldn't resist responding when it came his turn to talk. "I don't think I'm that low-key," he said. "As for being deliberative, yes, I'll continue to be that way because I don't think government should be run by crisis and I don't think one should use issues to become a demagogue."

The governor also took a swipe at his Republican opponent, Anne Arundel County Executive Robert A. Pascal, although never stooping to name him. "We know what kind of campaign it's going to be," he said. "We know my opponent is going to be shooting from the hip and we're going to be responding to those things with the facts because that's the way to run a campaign."

Hughes also sounded what may become a Democratic theme in the next six weeks: "If this isn't going to be a Democratic year, I don't know what is."

One Republican incumbent whom the Democrats apparently intend to pursue is state Sen. Howard A. Denis. Barnes made reference to "getting back that seat in Bethesda," and Sachs promised Brian Frosh, the Democrat who is opposing Denis, that he would return to the county to help him in his campaign.

It was left to retiring Sen. Victor L. Crawford, the campaign manager for the Democratic slate in the county, to put all the love and harmony into perspective. As the candidates crowded to the front of the room to get their picture taken, Crawford retreated.

"Thank God," he said, "I'll never have to smile when I don't want to again."