Over the last several weeks, Democratic presidential candidates have courted Jess Hay, a Dallas business executive and a top political fund-raiser, as if they were college coaches and Hay a high school basketball star.

Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis and his treasurer Robert A. Farmer, for example, had breakfast with Hay Nov. 13. Sen. Albert Gore Jr. (Tenn.) and some top aides attended a meeting and dinner Dec. 4 with Hay and about 50 members of his fund-raising network. "I've met with all the others, too," Hay said Friday.

The goal of the candidates, of course, is to get Hay to sign up with their team. He is one of a rare breed, a man who has the reputation, time and contacts to raise big money -- at least $250,000 -- for politicians he supports.

Because federal law limits to $1,000 individual contributions to candidates, finding fund-raisers who can reach out and tap others is a boon for any campaign.

While most of the major Republican fund-raisers committed themselves to candidates months ago, a spot check of the available Democratic talent shows there are more moneymen than usual who haven't been recruited.

One factor has been the early dropouts of Gary Hart and Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.), which left such fund-raisers as Philadelphia insurance consultant William A. Batoff (Hart) and Chicago developer Thomas B. Rosenberg (Biden) at least temporarily on the sidelines.

Batoff, for example, said he was ready to move to Denver to help Hart, and since Hart's withdrawal he has listened to the pitches of each of the remaining candidates. But he said he has yet to feel the excitement he needs before making a commitment.

The memory of the shellacking Walter F. Mondale took in 1984 and questions about the party's chances this time around also are factors for some. As one major fund-raiser put it, "it's incredible" that potential candidates such as Sens. Sam Nunn (Ga.) and Bill Bradley (N.J.) and New York Gov. Mario M. Cuomo have passed up the race. "That says something about their assessment of the prospects of a Democratic victory," he said.

Given recent history, former Biden supporter Rosenberg said, "A lot of fund-raisers are asking: 'How are you going to win? Not the nomination, not the caucuses in Iowa -- but the election next November.' "

Robert E. Rubin, a senior partner at the Goldman Sachs investment banking firm, is also among the unsigned. "I've been busy," he said. "Another part of it is not having been sufficiently motivated."

Why not? "I haven't tried to think it through carefully. The candidates strike me as not a bad group. None of them has caught fire, but they are not a bad group."

Hay is more upbeat. "I have great admiration for these men," he said. "They have shown they have the physical stamina and mental toughness it takes to run for president."

The head of a financial services group, Hay raised money for Sen. John Glenn (Ohio) and Mondale in the 1984 presidential race. He also was a major fund-raiser for former Texas governor Mark White. And earlier this year, the former head of the University of Texas Board of Regents started a political action committee in his home state to support higher education.

Hay said he and his friends are impressed by Gore. "He's a very attractive guy. That could very well be the way we end up going." Whatever he decides, it will probably be decided before Christmas. This is "primarily because to have an impact on the Texas primary {on "Super Tuesday," March 8}, you have to be ready by early '88," he said.

Paul G. Kirk Jr., chairman of the Democratic National Committee, is thinking further ahead and trying to recruit some of the same fund-raisers. A DNC spokeswoman said Kirk is pushing to get pledges from several moneymen to raise $100,000 each toward the $8 million each party is allowed to spend for its candidate in the general election. In 1984 the DNC fell far short of the limit while the Republican National Committee spent all $8 million.

Farmer, whose candidate Dukakis leads the pack in fund-raising so far with more than $10 million, noted that he has recruited more than 700 people and each has pledged to raise at least $10,000. "You make a mistake if you put too much reliance on a few people," he said.

He is quick to say, however, that he still is intent on what he calls the "courtship process" of Hay and the other undecideds. He said he had talked to Hay, Batoff, Rosenberg and Rubin in the last few days.