Denver — Susan Barnes can remember pizza-and-jeans evenings here with Gary and Lee Hart. ''Inevitably,'' she laughs about those pre-Senate days, ''the evening would end up with Trisha Cheroutes yelling at him (over a political issue).''
Mrs. Barnes, a friend of Mr. Hart's since they met campaigning for Robert Kennedy in 1968, smiles again when she notes that Mrs. Cheroutes is in the next room manning a Hart campaign phone bank with 12 other Denver professional women.
Mrs. Cheroutes, a flamboyant Denver Post columnist (her pen name is Trisha Flynn), may still have her differences with Hart. After all, she is a Republican. But she's also a Coloradan and an example of the statewide enthusiasm for Hart, who is expected to sweep presidential caucuses here on Monday.
Hart's candidacy has revitalized Democratic Party activism in this state, which normally votes Republican in presidential races. Party loyalty isn't a high priority in Colorado, where to be registered independent ''is rather a badge of honor,'' says Sherrie Wolff, executive director of the Colorado Democratic Party.
But she says state records show that Democratic registration since Hart's strong start in the primaries is higher than normal. Democrats have widened their 10,000-voter lead over registered Republicans by another 8,000. Independents are still the largest group, though.
Even state supporters of Walter Mondale concede the race here belongs to the Colorado senator. But the Mondale campaign will be measuring success by the former vice-president's ability to win any delegates at all, says Steve Cunningham, Mondale's Colorado campaign manager. Hart won only 5 percent of the vote in Mondale's home state of Minnesota.
Though the Democratic support for Hart appears to revolve around the fact he is the ''favorite son,'' the fact is that Hart is a two-term US senator because his position on issues has been as wide as that of his constituents. His ''new ideas'' are not so new to the Western states that have spawned the neoliberal movement.
In his first Senate campaign, in 1974, ''the strategy was that Gary did have new ideas, not the Democratic Party dogma. He was outside the system even then, '' says Eric Sonderman, a Colorado political consultant. Mr. Sonderman and other Coloradans point to Hart's middle ground on defense issues and his understanding of environmental issues dear to Westerners, who live here often because of the pristine setting.
Gail Culp, Hart's Boulder campaign manager, says she trusts Hart because he's ''not 100 percent for any one group.'' While this has been translated by some to mean that he waffles on issues, Mrs. Culp sees it as an honesty Mondale can't offer because he ''has promised so much to special interest groups.''
''Very few people in Colorado are from Colorado - a half or three-quarters are from outside,'' says Susan Barnes, who has been a state judge and an attorney since her early days with Hart. And, she adds, Hart reminds many Coloradans of why they came to the Rocky Mountain State.
''This is still a frontier in the sense that there's still enormous opportunity for young people, politically and professionally. You don't have to be here 25 years to be somebody,'' she says. That vision of opportunity fulfilled, she says, ''may sound trite,'' but it's ''classic Gary and classic Colorado.''
Though the image of Coloradans is now more the young, highly educated ''immigrant'' from the East rather than the rugged ranching type, Democrats here buck the ''Yuppie'' (young, urban professional) label in true independent Colorado spirit.
Nor do Hart's old Denver friends classify him as a Yuppie. ''He's not a jock . . . he's not a run-and-brunch man, despite what the press says about his tennis game,'' Mrs. Barnessays. He is a reader, a writer, and a movie lover, according to her recollection.