There were two famous victories in town last night and the battle will be conducted Nov. 4, God willing and the creek don't rise.
Both Democrats and Republicans last night sniffed victory, however, and celebrated by allowing ardent supporters to buy $1,000-a-plate dinners at the Hilton-dum and Hilton-dee.
At the Capital Hilton, the Republicans ingathered 400, while at the Washington Hilton the Democrats drew 1,000. But wait: The Republicans had similar dinners in 19 cities and had a great movie screen with a hookup to New York, Oklahoma City and the West Coast.
Not only did they have Maureen Reagan, the candidates daughter, and Paul Laxalt, chairman of the Reagan campaign, in the living flesh, but also Ronald and Nancy Reagan via television from New York..
"I'm so proud of him I could pop," said the candidate's wife, introducing him. And Reagan thanked her for that warm introduction which was especially reassuring, he went on, since she'd been sitting next to Frank Sinatra all evening. (The myth goes that Sinatra is irresistible).
The Democrats didn't have any entertianment. Except, of course, a few now-go-out-there-and-give-'em-hell pep talks from, among others, President Jimmy Carter himself.
His 15-minute talk was on the light side, no doubt on the theory that if you pay a thousand bucks for your supper you don't want anything too heavy. There were cracks about Leon Jaworski, he of Watergate fame, and his Democrats for Reagan, the general point being that this is incredible and the idea of any Democrat being for Reagan is enough to make a cat smile.
The president also confessed a recurring anxiety, a sort of fantacy nightmare, in which he can see Reagan in the White House signing all bills at night under floodlights -- real extravaganzas -- and with all foreign heads of state taking their shoes off to leave immortal footprints on the South Lawn for posterity.
Reagan, who came on at his dinner after some pretty high-powered show-business talent (Sinatra, Dean Martin, Pat Boone, etc.) smiled but looked earnest and after pro forma remarks about Dean Martin (Martin is always zonked out of his head, according to immemorial folklore) lit into Carter.
When he was young, he said, Americans were proud of their past and confident of their future. But now -- well, Carter has not delivered on any of his election promises to reduce inflation, increase employment and inspire the nation. Instead Reagan said without losing a beat, ambassadors have been shot, citizens have been taken hostage and the picture is pretty grim.
And yet, lest a pall settle over the 19 fund-raising dining rooms, there is hope. Americans can both laugh and fight (Reagan said Churchill once said of us) and all we need is to turn the rascals out and let the Republicans usher in a new day of general salvation.
Thundering claps rocked the bronze-gold-candlelit Republican dining room.
But then thundering claps rocked the blue-and-moonlight Democratic dining room down the street a few blocks, too.
The Democrats were dressier. At least the men wore black ties, while the poor old non-elite Republicans wore business suites. Women at both affairs wore evening dresses. No blue hair and no tennis shoes visible at either event.
The Republicans had their entertainment dished out for them. The Democrats had to make their own, by dancing with each other (when of appropriate sexual pairings) and carting off the flowers that had decorated the tables.
You got filet of beef and California wine at both bashes. Beans for the Democrats, sugar snaps for the Republicans. Nothing decisive there, no straws in the wind there, sources speculated.
Victory dinners are usually held following an election, preferably a victorious election. But too often in the past one side or the other has lost, and wound up with God's own plenty of hot dogs, etc., and nobody to eat them.
Each party this year celebrated in advance and with a full house and, moreover, raised an awful lot of money doing it.
The Republicans did start at 6:30, the Democrats not until 8. Long cocktail hour. On the other hand, the Democrats danced later. Things even out.
In America some profess to see an atonishing apathy over the presidential election, and pundits busy themselves fussing at the general populace that tremendous differences exist between the candidates.
Last night both events brought out passionately committed partisans. No apathy to be found. And though the crowds looked pretty interchangeable, no example could be found of a fellow attending the wrong event by accident and clapping madly all night long.
In any case, it was a famous victory. Two famous victories. And one crowd or the other will smugly say I told you so in November. The other will say the country has gone to the damn dogs. Thus reaching the plateau a good many nillion citizens seem to be sitting on already.