Jimmy Carter had barely finished speaking English and what you might call Georgian-Spanish to a ballroom full of minority votes last night when, and a-one, two three, the salsa band and instant political analaysis started.
Analysis One, offered at the third annual dinner of the Hispanic Congressional Caucus: "Extremely pertinent remarks. Obviously political. But he said a lot of things other presidents haven't said." This was from Luis Alvarez, board chairman of the National Puerto Rican Coalition, Inc.
Analysis Two: "I think he was well-briefed." That was Thomas Espinoza, president of Chicanos Por La Causa in Phoenix.
And Three: "Totally appealing to the Hispanic voter, but not much substance in his speech. The Hispanic community is beyond being patronized." This person, holding forth over the music, was Jose Longoria, executive director of a Latin education service.
But generally speaking, the after-speech yakety-yak was a good deal less popular than the Washington Hilton dance floor.There, terrifyingly high heels and tuxedos did the guaracha and whatever else happened to strike their fancy.
The president spoke to the 1,000-plus crowd between the entree and dessert, emphasizing his appointment of more than 200 Hispanics to top-level government posts as well as reiterating his support for bilingual education, new jobs, "humane resettlement," of Cuban, refugees and a solution to the illegal aliens problem.
His pursuit to the Hispanic vote was clear, and points to the growing importance of America's estimated 20 million Spanish-speaking residents. In the Southwest and particularly Texas, where Ronald Reagan has been campaigning, the Hispanic vote is considered a crucial election factor.
Last night during a pre-dinner cocktail reception, support for Carter ranged from those who said they'd vote for Carter 10 times if it were legal to those who wistfully recalled the bright hope of Ted Kennedy. Last year, Kennedy made a movie star-like appearance at the caucus, but was so strangled by television lights and agog reporters that he didn't stay much longer than it took to say hello and don't know if I'll run.
"My preference would be Kennedy over Carter," Ignacio Gallegos, a director of the Hemisphere National Bank, said last night in the squash at the cocktail reception. "And hopefully, in another four years. . ."
"Now it's really touch-and-go as to where the Hispanic vote is going to go," said Eddie Mercado, and employe of a civil rights agency in New York.
Among the guests whom people took pictures of were Rep. Robert Garcia (D-N.Y.); Susan Herrera, executive director of the caucus; protocol chief Abelardo Valdez; Edward Hidalgo, secretary of the Navy and LaDonna Harris, the wife of the 1976 presidentail candidate who is running herself this year for vice president on Barry Commoner's Citizen's Party ticket.
The evening, even if it was in Washington six weeks shy of a presidental election, wasn't entirely political. (Although one Hispanic waiter did say he was going to attend a celebration party for Anastasio Somoza's death this weekend. "A bad man" explained this waiter, Francisco Peralta, as he served mousse and macaroons.)
Still, as already mentioned, there was dancing. And after that, in assorted suites hidden in the labyrinth of the Hilton, there were after-parties that may well have gone on until breakfast.
"It's really a freak show," explained Roque Padron, a New York City funeral director. "Stick around."
"We have a lot of sabor ," added Maria Diaz, a friend of his from New York. "Or as a Jewish person would say -- chutzpah."