St. George's, Grenada — The heart of St. George's in Grenada is the Carenage, a seaside avenue winding its way around a horseshoe-shaped harbor that is almost a cliche of spectacular tropical beauty. Red-roofed stone and wood houses perch on extravagantly green hills, travel-brochure palm trees wave in travel-brochure breezes.
In the middle of all this Caribbean splendor is Rudolf's, an Austrian restaurant that, despite the trauma of a coup and an invasion by foreign forces, still turns out a good Wiener schnitzel and marinated beef salad.
During the last month of the Bishop regime, Rudolf's was often the backdrop for the hushed whispers of longtime foreign residents and local businessmen and their wives. They exchanged alarming rumors about the latest arrests and about strange ships pulling into deserted beaches at night, manned by brown-skinned men speaking Spanish with what sounded like Cuban accents.
Last week Rudolf's had changed. The mood was exuberant. A Grenadian harmonica player blew somewhat fanciful versions of the Blue Danube Waltz as the same properous local residents mingled in a relaxed manner with groups of journalists and United States soldiers. Locals greeted each other with shouts of joy and exchanged assurances that they had not suffered during the fighting. They traded war stories and talked politics.
The names on their lips these days are Winston White, Alister Hughes, and Francis Alexis, - names members of the island's conservative and private-sector forces are hoping will lead them to power in elections the governor general, Sir Paul Scoon, says will be held within a year.
And it is possible that conservative forces could gain a hold on this island which has been run by leftists since 1979. Slain leader Maurice Bishop's New Jewel Movement has been seriously weakened.
Although the conservatives' best shot at gaining power is just ahead, they have problems that could weaken their campaign. They are split into two factions. One is the Grenada National Party (GNP), which is the old establishment businessmen and ''plantocracy'' party headed by Rupert Blaze, a respected but elderly lawyer.
The second is the Grenada Democratic Movement (GDM), a group of Grenadian exiles in Barbados, Trinidad, and the US who coalesced around an anti-Bishop platform. Most GDM leaders are lower-middle-class men who became successful professionals and businessmen.
Many think that the GDM, if it gained power, would sweep aside grass-roots organizations, support completely laissez-faire economic policies, and follow US President Ronald Reagan in foreign affairs. The GDM thinks it offers a strong alternative to people whose political views may have shifted to the right during the last two years of the Bishop regime.
Most Grenadians feel the GNP could not take leadership of the right away from the brash new GDM and would have to join it as the junior partner of an electoral coalition.
Two GDM leaders are commonly mentioned as possible prime ministerial candidates:
* Francis Alexis, a professor of law at the University of the West Indies in Barbados. Alexis is described as a laissez faire liberal not sympathetic to grass-roots movements who hopes to return to the Westminster parliamentary system.
* Winston White, a politician who in the early '70s was former Prime Minister Eric Gairy's minister of labor, youth, and sport. Many think White, a dynamic man who just this week joined the GDM, will soon eclipse Alexis.
White broke with Gairy in '74 and formed his own party of businessmen. He was arrested by the Bishop government in 1979 on charges of plotting against the regime and sent to prison, where he remained until the US-led intervention.
There are two other figures to watch here:
* Mr. Gairy, Grenada's former strong man. He is almost always described as manipulative, demagogic, and corrupt, but popular in rural areas. Gairy was accused of organizing terrorist gangs that beat up his opponents. He is disliked by the left, the establishment, and neighboring Caribbean countries. Most observers say Gairy could win a fair election only if the other political groups became so polarized that he could edge his way into power.
* Alister Hughes, Grenada's most prominent journalist. He was arrested after the recent coup, then dramatically rescued by a group of journalists. Hughes is mentioned as a potential figure in both the provisional government and in eventual elections and is viewed as the businessmen's only viable candidate.
Many other islanders think that once the initial shock of the coup and invasion wear off, Grenadians will not support a movement that rejects the positive aspects of the Bishop government.