The excitement of Lynn Nancy Rivers' orientation for her new job as a House member was tempered by the knowledge she is part of a Democratic freshman class of only 13. And frankly, the 73 Republican freshmen seem to be having a better time.

"The new Republican members are seen as the instruments of the Republicans' deliverance to the majority party," Rivers said after three-day orientation last week. "Everywhere you turn there are Republican parties and receptions. They look like they're having more fun."The big GOP class of 1994 tipped the House majority to the Republicans, 230-204, with one independent.

At a weekend orientation session in Baltimore, Republican freshmen were instilled with what incoming House Speaker Newt Gingrich called "a real sense that they're the moment in history."

In 1993, the arrival of new Republican lawmakers was not so momentous; the incoming Democratic freshmen outnumbered them, 66-51.

This time around new House Democrats don't feel so special.

"I think the leadership wants to welcome us . . . but we're somewhat of an irrelevancy at the moment as they deal with the magnitude of the (election) loss," Rivers said.

Rivers' elation over her own political victory was tempered by the Democratic electoral wreckage around her.

"It's like when there's a war and you get in a foxhole with a lot of people. Then a grenade gets thrown in the foxhole and you become the only survivor," she said. "While you're elated to be alive, there's a tremendous sense of guilt and grief. There's not the usual jubilation."

But the small size of the new Democratic Class also means the members are close, Rivers said.

"There was a camaraderie and warmth that developed and was very helpful," the 37-year-old representative-elect said.

Rivers was president of the Ann Arbor Board of Education and then a member of the Michigan House of Representatives before her election to Congress from a district west of Detroit.