For George H. Sheldon, a well-regarded state representative, the price of being pro-Kennedy was flying to Washington two weeks ago and then discovering he had been "disinvited" to the swearing-in ceremony at the White House for his old boss, former Florida governor Reubin Askew, now President Carter's special trade representative.

For Dennis Kennedy, a 26-year-old nightclub manager across the bay in St. Petersburg, the sign of official displeasure was more petty. On the new letterhead of the Pinellias County Democratic Executive Committee, his name and office, sergeant-at-arms, disappeared.

What Sheldon and Kennedy have in common is that they are among the handful of local Democratic leaders in the Tampa Bay area who are actively supporting Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass) against President Carter in Saturday's county caucuses, the first preseason test in the 1980 presidential contest.

The headlines will talk of a Carter or Kennedy victory Saturday in the voting for 879 delegates to the Nov. 18 state convention, where an essentially meaningless presidential preference poll will be taken.

But at the local level, this is a highly personal fight, and the weapons are not the big issues of the weighty considerations of national leadership but the same kind of small favors and petty indignities that are employed in domestic diplomacy or family fights.

For example, the biggest advantage the Carter forces have in their battle for the 45 delegates from Hillsborough County (Tampa) is the invitation they sent to hundreds of residents of local senior citizens' homes to have breakfast Saturday morning with the president's mother, "Miss Lillian" Carter.

After breakfast, the Carter buses will swing the expected 500 oldsters past the county courthouse so they can vote, before returning them to the Baptist Manors or the Presbyterian Villas where they live.

"it's a smart move," Sheldon conceded. "It will really build up the turnout. And we don't have a Kennedy relative down here to match her."

Lacking that, Sheldon sent a letter to the senior citizens, saying, "I know you have been invited to have breakfast with the president's mother, but I want you to be aware of some facts." The facts, in Sheldon's rendering, at least, show Kennedy a better friend of Social Security than Carter has been.

"we're hoping some of them will eat with Miss Lillian and vote for Kennedy," Sheldon said, "but it's just a hope."

The last few days have been full of rumor and maneuver as the battle for the 100 delegates to be chosen here and in Pinellas County comes to an end. no one is sure what the voter turnout will be so every small advantage is being played.

Someone who can deliver a dozen Greek sponage-fishermen from Tarpon Springs or a group of chiropractors from Clearwater can become a King-maker in this sort of struggle.

Where Kennedy supporters have muscle to employ, they are not reluctant to use it. Yesterday, in St. Petersburg, Tim Foley, a staff aide to United Auto Workers union President Douglas Fraser, showed up and persuaded 600 retired union members to deliver a somewhat reluctant Kennedy endorsement.

His actions aggavated Herb Green and Dolores Knight, the pro-Carter regional and state UAW political-action officials, who had arranged for Detroit Mayor Coleman Young, a Carter backer, to fly in and address the retired unionists. Young did his job saying Carter "does not deserve to be dumped," but after he lefted, Foley took over the rostrum again and gaveled through the Kennedy endorsement he had clearly been sent down to obtain.

A similar power-play was engineered by the Machinists Union's Washington political analyst, William Holayter, who has been working the bay area for Kennedy the past week. Labor in Florida is running its own uncommitted slates, but at the local level, indivdual unions have been making deals for "double slating" with either Carter or Kennedy.

In St. Petersburg, Jim Jones, the county labor federations political action director, chose to play it straight. Even though he is strongly pro-Carter and his wife is on the Carter delegate slate, Jones filed a slate of 55 uncommitted labor delegates, none of them duplicating Carter names.

Then he discovered that the Machinists and Firefighters had made their own deal with the Kennedy forces for a joint slating of people, whose chances of winning are thereby improved.

"if I'd known that," Jones said, "I would have slated some Carter delegates. I was had."

In this part of the state, however, most of the Democratic establishment is backing the president and the squeeze on the Kennedy people has been powerful. In St. Petersburg, John Eade, a political pro from Michigan, who ran the 1976 Carter campaign in Missouri, moved in three weeks to manage this one county with help from a strongly pro-Carter national committeewoman, Hazel Talley Evans, and a pro-Carter county Democratic committee.