The Wisconsin crowd had drinks in the bedroom while the Georgia boys dripped sweat at the clubhouse, but basically, the two parties came down to the same thing: fund-raising season, ho, ho, ho, on Capitol Hill.
One was to pull in money for Rep. Les Aspin (D-Wis.), the liberal Kennedyite whose administrative aide calls the congressman's finances "a bad scene. A very bad scene." Last night's other party was for Rep. Elliot Levitas (D-Ga.), the early Carterite who plays tennis with Stu Eizenstat. l
Levitas and Aspin, like gangs of other up-for-reelection congressmen, threw their parties to capitalize on Christmas cheer and lobbyists' cash. Sneaking them in before the scheduled session closing on Dec. 14 was crucial; otherwise, they would have to wait until all the lobbyists come back in late January.
"We needed it now," said Aspin's aide, Charles Conzales. "We're trying to pay our debts before the end of the year. We had a treasurer who ran away with a little money -- 27 Gs -- so we've got some very interesting creditors."
The treasurer, for the record, was found guilty and apparently has been banished forever to Racine, Wis. But that's another story.
As for the current story, it begins last night at 6 p.m. That's when the Levitas crowd began arriving at the Democratic Club, a sort of smoky dark wood place tucked behind some railroad tracks on Capitol Hill.
The early group was lobbyists, who always seem to forget how much they have given to the candidate in question. Like Scott Yohe, who works the Hill for Delta Airlines.
"Ahhhhhhh," he said when questioned about the amount Delta had given to Levitas this campaign, "ahhhh, beer. I'd like a beer." This was addressed to the bartender.
The later crowd included the White House folks Levitas befriended in Georgia when he used to help push Gov. Jimmy Carter's bills through the state legislature. Among them were Eizenstat, OMB Director James McIntyre and Press Secretary Jody Powell.
"There're a few people here who talk like I do," drawled Powell. "Good to go to a cocktail party where you can understand the conversation."
Aside from drawling and dripping a good deal of sweat (the club felt like a hot tub), the crowd also admired Transportation Secretary Neil Goldschmidt. The female crowd, that is.
"There's 400 women around him," said a congressional aid who begged for anonymity. "God, that man's good-looking."
And then there were a few around who didn't have to pay $250 to be there. Mike Sheehan, for instance, who evidently got in free under some sort of unofficial good neighbor policy. That's what he used to be to Levitas.
"He didn't make any noise," reported Sheehan, a grant manager for the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration. "Borrowed some scotch every once in a while, but that was all."
Meanwhile, across the Potomac, the Aspin forces were collecting at a creaky, nearly 200-year-old Alexandria landmark called the Lee-Fendall House. Inside, guests ate cheese cubes in a cozy dining room as a pianist played "Good King Wenceslaus" by candlelight.
And upstairs, in a bedroom decorated with an oil of someone's severe-looking ancestor, a bartender served drinks.
"I think John L. Lewis would be very amused," said Marilyn Moll, a docent who was referring to the labor leader who used to live there. Moll was also on hand to answer questions about other bedrooms, like the adjoining one. There, a single lit candle, a patchwork quilt and lacy sheets made it seem like a place to, well, to not have a fund-raiser.
Downstairs it was politics. "Carter?" said Aspin, the chairman of Ted Kennedy's campaign in Wisconsin. "He has good days and bad days." And on Kennedy's slump, he decreed: "Ah, temporary. He's got a lot of rapport in Wisconsin."
The Aspin party, which was expected to draw 100, drew only about half that. Most were staffers, friends and the ubiquitous lobbyists.
So over in the corner was John Carson, who pushes for foot doctors. Now why, of all the lobbies to choose from, would someone pick foot doctors?
"That's a long story," said Carson, who told it anyway. He was right. Long. Very long.
Because there was a no-smoking law in the house, everybody who wanted a cigarette had to pile onto the porch by the coat rack. It was crowded but chummy.
Among this small crowd was Mike Edmonds, 19, an intern in Aspin's office who's not been much out of Neenah, Wis., until now. "Certainly is different from Neenah," he observed.