DULUTH, MINN., JUNE 15 -- Minnesota Republicans rallied around Sen. Dave Durenberger (R-Minn.) as a fallen hero today in what GOP leaders described as a critical first test of his ability to survive the political fallout from the ethics charges that have been made against him in Washington.

Three days after the special counsel to the Senate ethics committee recommended that he be denounced by the Senate for "reprehensible" financial misconduct, Durenberger came home to face 1,300 disillusioned, disappointed friends at the state convention of the Minnesota Independent-Republican Party.

As he both apologized for "mistakes" and vowed to fight to regain the trust of those who helped make him a senator nearly 12 years ago, he was applauded warmly and often.

Delegates lined up to shake his hand after giving him a standing ovation on his arrival, and Durenberger, clearly buoyed by the welcome, grasped them all, one by one, in a nearly crushing bear hug. Some looked embarrassed; others were close to tears.

"It was a healthy thing here today," said Terri Ashmore, an alternate delegate from St. Paul. "It was his friends he had to go to first, and he did that. Basically, he bared his soul to the people who supported him in the past, and they responded. That says to me he's going to make it."

For those who felt he had blamed others too much and not accepted enough blame himself in his emotional speech to the ethics panel Wednesday, he came closer to conceding that what he did -- and not just its appearance -- was wrong.

"I wouldn't do any of those things again under any circumstances," he told the audience as many nodded in approval.

The day started badly for Durenberger as he woke up in Minneapolis to find the state's biggest newspaper, the Star Tribune, calling for his resignation in its lead editorial.

"Durenberger can weather the criticism almost sure to be forthcoming from his Senate colleagues," the editorial said. "But to continue serving his constituents well, he would need the public trust he has forfeited."

But at the convention here, it was the newspaper, not Durenberger, that got denounced. What the paper should do now is "print a ballot asking people whether the editorial writer should be fired," said state House Minority Leader Bill Schreiber amid applause and cheers from the delegates.

While it might not be unusual for a partisan crowd to rally around one of its own, the Minnesota GOP is regarded as considerably more conservative than Durenberger and has had ideological differences with him in the past. There was no sign of any qualms on those grounds here today, however.

But conversations with delegates indicated that Durenberger, who is charged with breaking Senate ethics rules in a book publishing deal, a condominium exchange arrangement and by accepting free limousine rides, has a long way to go even in restoring personal trust.

"I do think there's disappointment that a U.S. senator, highly respected, reelected {in 1988} by an overwhelming vote, would engage in unethical conduct," said state Sen. Dennis Frederickson of New Ulm. "One thing about Minnesota is its pride in being honest and ethical politically."

If Durenberger returns often to the state, continues to play an influential role on issues like health care and "exhibits some remorse," people will be forgiving, Frederickson said. "But if he stonewalls or blames others, he's in trouble."

"I feel his reputation has been damaged, but I hope he can put it behind him," said Mitch Swanson, a delegate from Cloquet, near Duluth. "We are a forgiving people -- for those who repent."

Elaine Kaehler, a delegate from Minnetonka, expressed the ambivalence of many at the convention. "I think he should have paid closer attention to what he was doing, but he's been a very good senator and done a lot of good for the state," she said. "I'm inclined to stay with him, and I think Minnesotans will, too."

Like others, Kaehler also saw broader messages in Durenberger's fate. She deplored the high-cost lifestyle that may put temptation in the path of less affluent lawmakers and contended that others are probably guilty of more serious transgressions than those for which Durenberger is accused.

The message from the convention, said Rep. Vin Weber (R-Minn.), was that Durenberger "has taken a big hit. . . but he'll survive."

In his speech, Durenberger referred pointedly to his office as one of "sacred trust," saying he had earned the trust through conscientious service but "came close to giving it all away through my own mistakes."

Apparently referring to suggestions that he resign, which have also come from state Democratic leaders, Durenberger said, "I don't run away from challenges." Later, he said flatly he would not resign.