From New Richmond, Wis., from Abbeville, S.C., from the Southside of Chicago, from Iowa Falls, Iowa - but especially from the red dirt country of Georgia - inaugural visitors flowed into Washington yesterday breathing a fresh, warm breath of air into this chilly city.

By land and air, they came by the thousands to reclaim the White House. They swept into the city's hotels. They clogged its streets, drawing rush hour traffic to a near standstill.

There were fatcat contributors with tuxedos in their suitcases, farmer's wives with new fur coats, college students with backpacks and Democratic politicos of almost every stripe imaginable, all claiming some small IOU from Jimmy Carter.

With them, they'd brought an air of optimism for the city and a challenge to the inauguration.

"I'm actually a people," declared Richard Bradwell, 27-year-old fish store owner from Miami. "But I worked hard for Jimmy Carter. I was in Washington (for antiware demonstrations) when it wasn't a pretty, place to be. Now I think it'll be different, and I want to find if all this talk about a people's inaugural is a sham, or if it's real."

Every hour, from 9:30 a.m. on, there was one activity or another to occupy attention. For the rich or well connected, there were two $25-a-head receptions for Walter Mondale, the exclusive New Spirit Inaugural Concert at Kennedy Center, and a series of smaller parties. For the unconnected, there were free poetry readings, bluegrass concerts, a horseshow, a prayer service and film festivals.

Georgians almost took over the Sheraton Park Hotel; Minnesotans occupied the Shoreham, a block away. Others scattered throughout the metropolitan area. The whole land seemed to descent on Capitol Hill.

"Who's here, Millionaires mostly," Sam Singer, of Lumpkin, Ga., said at the Shoreham. "I'm a millionaire. Noll here is a millionaire. That guy over there is a millionaire. They're all substantial people, who've worked in the Peanut Brigade. They couldn't afford the trip otherwise."

Singer is Jimmy Carter's nearest competitor in the peanut seed and shelling business in south central Georgia. The President-elect's mother, Miss Lillian was his nurse at birth; he sold Carter's father his first peanut seed back in 1951, and he helped engineer Carter's first political defeat by managing the campaign of an opponent for the state Senate.

But last year Singer campaigned for Carter in New Hampshire, Florida, Mississippi, Maine and Georgia. "I'd go door to door and say, "Hi, I'm Jimmy Carter's neighbor,'" he said. "Just as I would leave, I'd reach in my pocket and pull out a peanut. Then, I'd say, "Jimmy wanted me to give you this."

The inauguration, like all such occasions, attracted its share of fatcats, and persons who wanted to rub shoulders with the great and near great, to see and be seen. But many came at considerable personal sacrifice because they felt they had a stake in the event.

William Ellicott, a 58-year-old laborer from Greensboro, Miss., borrowed $500 from Household Finance so he and his wife would come to Washington. Yesterday the couple was still arguing about the move.

"I tried to tell ole hard head here that it wasn't worth it," Mrs. Ellicott said, nudging her husband's ribs. "It ain't like we dont have a TV set."

But Ellicott saw a "second coming" in Carter's election. "When was the last time a president ever invited you anywhere?" he asked. "When was the last time anybody invited you anywhere."

"That's what I was going to ask you," his wife responded. "I don't feel comfortable around these society types, going to parties and like that, but we don't go many places and this is kind of exciting."

Almost everyone in town claimed some part of Jimmy Carter's soul. Almost everyone claimed to have been among the first to climb aboard the Carter bandwagon. "I was one of the few who started with Carter and stayed with him," said Marc Stepp. 53, vice president of the United Auto Workers Union. "Even after the Playboy and ethnic purity thing, I caught flak but I stayed with him. I'm here because I feel this inaugural signals a change in this country and I want to be part of it."

Inevitably, there were difficulties. The biggest was the rush hour traffic jam caused by inauguration eve traffic. The Connecticut and K Street N.W area downtown was almost impassable from 5:15 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. One motorist complained that it had taken him 2 1/2 hours to drive from Southeast Washington to DuPont Circle. A policeman complained that it took him 30 minutes to drive a block from 15th and K Streets NW to 16th and K Streets NW.

One man was arrested while he watched a horseshow on the Ellipse, south of the White House. He claimed he had refused to move from in front of a limousine parked on the grass.

The great hall of the Commerce Department , where inaugural tickets were distributed, was a scene of mass confusion at late afternoon.

Dozens of persons milled about, jockeying for inauguration and inaugural ball tickets. Ben Brown, a Chicago lawyer, wandered around holding a sign saving he wanted to trade four tickets to the Washington Hilton ball for four tickets to the Sheraton Park ball. "I hope the government runs more smoothly than the inauguration does," said Nelson Kuniansky, a hydrologist from Laramie, Wyo.

Crowds, however, were uneven much of the day. Traditional tourists attractions, like the Washington Monument and the White House, reported low attendence.

The Capitol building swarmed with visitors. Each seemed to have a story of his own. Rudy Brooks, an Atlanta florist, recalled how Carter used to stay in a spare bedroom in his house while campaigning. He'd check in late at night, then be out by 5 a.m., having made his won bed and left a note of thanks.

At least 18 states held special gatherings of one sort or another. Southern accents were in. So were small towns. People who have lived in Washington for decades suddenly announced that they were really from Paducha, Ky., or Sank Centre, Minn., or Peoria, III.

There was more than a little political hucksterism in the air. "Everyone in town who isn't gainfully employed is saying they're in line for a Carter appointment," joked an investment banker from Atlanta.

Each event had it's own flavor. People attending an Arkansas reception, for instance, were given white name tags that had red hogs on them - actually razorbacks, someone said. Forty-six square dancers bounced about.

"The South will rise again, just watch us," Luther H. Black of Little Rock, Ark., announced.

At the Louisana Democratic State Central Committee party in the Russell Senate office Building a six-piece Cajun band from Lafayette, La., sang French songs.

"We believe in God. We believe in our God from the South," said William Montgomery of New Orleans as he sipped on a drink. He said he had worked "untiringly within the state" for Carter and flew to Washington yesterday to enjoy the inaugural events.

Marie Carter, a teacher at the Marie C. Convent Elementary School in New Orleans, said six children with her sent letters to Carters during the election campaign asking him to visit their school.

"The rest of the senators and governors came to our school," said Debra Williams, a sixth grader, "and we wanted to know why he wouldn't come."

The elementary school children (one third grader and five sixth graders) who were able to attend the inaugural events because of contributions and donations from the community, said they were ejoying their trip.

"We're here because there's a new President being sworn in and it's a great day for America," said Mayor Moon Landrieu of New Orleans.

At the International Inn at Thomas Circle, one woman who continually shouted her name in the lobby, where a green and white inaugural information stand and bar adjacent kept several dozen people busy, huddled with two other friends from Wisconsin and giggled loudly.

"I went to a party last night for Ambassador Andrew Young and I met Alex Haley," yelled Shirley Schmerburg of Kenosha, Wis. "He gave me an autographed book. Talk about a sweet man."

Then Schmerburg twisted her index finger in her cheeck and said, "I got kissed here. I got kissed by Muhammed Ali."

Schmerburg and Joyce White of Milwaukee, Wis., said they were enjoying their trip because they're staying in the same hotel with Ali, his bodyguards and actor Red Foxx.

"I took pictures of Redd Foxx and Muhammed Ali," White said. She and another friend had just returned from shopping downtown.

But if Washington was taken over by any one single group of people yesterday, it was by the Georgians. They operated from a base camp at the Sheraton Park. The ballroom there was decorated for a huge bash. Signs in the lobby announced: Georgians Watch Live Action News directly from home on WSB-TV on Channel 5 in your room."

Almost everyone claimed to be a personal friend of Carter. Noll Van Cleave, from Richland, Ga., just down the road from Plains, said his timber cutting firm buys trees from Carter, and his auto dealership sold Miss Lillian her latest car.

"It obvious why we're here. If you were in college and your team went to the Sugar Bowl, you'd go, won't you?" he asked. "When your neighbor is elected President, you go too."