John Connally, the onetime Democrat turned Republican presidential hopeful, came to Washington last night looking like the hottest rookie out of spring training camp.

His pitch was the same on he has been delivering all spring in the grapefruit leagues. He warned of gloom and doom over inflation. He ridiculed President Carter's energy program. He lambasted the naysayers of the land. And he said it was time for someone-preferably John Connally-to stand up for business and America.

The pitch has been the biggest hit of the political preseason, winning rave reviews in such diverse places as Indianapolis and Concord, N.H. And it played well in Washington last night at a fund-raising dinner for the District of Columbia's tiny Republican Party.

More than 350 people shelled out $100 each to hear the former Texas governor and secretary of the treasury speak at the Sheraton Park Hotel. "It's the biggest dinner we've had in years," said party finance chairman Mike Gill. "It's Connally. People know he's hot and they want to hear him."

The crowd gave Connally a standing ovation when he began and ended. Connally gave the crowd a comfortable "America-first" stemwinder, heavy on traditional Republican rhetoric.

The rate of inflation was only 1 percent per year under President Eisenhower, a Republican, Connally said at one point. It's time for Republicans to mount an offensive for business, he said at another, suggesting a climate change where "business is not an evil word and profit is not an obscene word."

But Connally's strongest words came in criticizing Japanese trade policies. If the Japanese don't open up their markets to U.S. agricultural products, the United States should tell its ally "you better be prepared to sit on the dock with your Hondas, your Sonys and your Toyotas, and eating your own oranges."

As he finished the attacks, a Japanese television film crew crawled up behind Connally, looking like it was going to zap him. The crowd broke into laughter. Connally turned to the film crew and said, "I'm delighted they're here, and if they didn't catch me the first time, I'll repeat it."*