Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
When the rain began and the drip dry tablecloths were more drip than dry and the bipartisan crowd of people standing in the Georgetown garden of the John Sherman Coopers looked as if they didn't quite grasp what was happening, somebody suggested that Sen. Charles Percy, the Illinois Republican, tell them to come inside.
Percy started to, then thought better of it. And in what may or may not have been as much a political forecast as a climatic one, he took obvious relish in observing drolly: "They're all old enough to know when to come in out of the rain."
They came in Thursday, anyway, more than 100 Percy supporters, predominantly Republican but not without a healthy sprinkling of others - "Count us Independents and Democrats very carefully," said Jean Sisco, there with her husband, American University president Joseph Sisco, former undersecretary in Henry Kissinger's State Department.
So the game could just as easily have been picking Democrats out of the crowd, John Kennedy ones like Adam Yarmolinsky or Jimmy Carter ones like Vicki Bagley, as assessing election-year strengths and weaknesses of both political parties.
"This isn't somebody I'm going to vote for," Bagley said of Percy, "this is somebody I like. I support Republicans who are decent and smart. I support Democrats who are decent and smart."
Yarmolinsky, who like Bagley needs not face the Illinois voting booth in November, was there because Percy has been a member of the U.S. delegation to the special United Nations disarmament conference. Yarmolinsky is counselor to the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. And Ina Ginsburg, a self-described "ardent Democrat," said she makes an exception for friends. "Even Republicans need friends."
Percy went further, uneasy about the increasing number of voters who stay home on election day. "The people who stayed home to mow the lawn defeated [New Jersey senator] Cliff Case," he said, "Incumbents can't take anybody for granted."
Taking in an estimated $10,000 from tickets that began at $50 and went zooming to $1,000, the Percy fund-raiser drew such prominent GOP names as Mrs. Everett Dirksen, Mrs. Robert Low Bacon, Sens. Bob Packwood (Ore.) and John Danforth (Mo.), Rep. Robert Michel (Ill.) and House Minority Leader John Rhodes (Ariz.).
Rhodes saw a victorious November ahead for Republican candidates "if Mr. Carter keeps doing what he's doing. The Carter people are slow learners. What people are mainly concerned about are domestic problems - inflation and taxes."
Percy, whose little-known opponent, Alex Seith, received quiet support from Carter in Chicago recently (Newsweek reported that the president ordered no reporters or photographers present when he met with Seith, and later sent word to Percy asking that he not take offense at the Chicago visit), has been the ranking Republican on the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, which has been handling the Civil Service reform legislation.
"At 5:55 tonight, we voted out the new Civil Service reform bill," said Percy, hailing it as the greatest gift he could have had, fund-raisers notwithstanding. "Carter needed us Republicans tonight."