More than 400 Democrats trickled through the living room, each one greeted warmly by their hosts, Pamela and W. Averell "Governor" Harriman, and then slowly spilled out into the terraced garden to meet and discuss party strategy. Some were candidates, others were lawyers, aides and lobbyists. All were "Democrats for the '80s" dedicated to the revitalization and unification of their party through their financial support. Party unity was symbolized early in the evening with the presentation of a birthday cake to Democratic National Committee Chairman Charles T. Manatt, who swept in to be feted and then swept out.
"We did this last year and decided we had to make it an annual thing," said Pamela Harriman, the political action committee's founder. "Last year after the election we looked back in anger. This year we look forward with hope."
Harriman founded Democrats for the '80s nearly 18 months ago, seeing a need to regroup and solidify a party devastated by the 1980 elections. Since then, through a series of elite $1,000-a-plate "issues dinners" hosted by the Harrimans and larger events such as this $30-a-head reception, the PAC has come close to achieving its fund-raising goal of $1 million and is well on its way to establishing a national network of Democrats working together.
All efforts of the group aim toward a Democratic victory in the '82 and '84 elections. "We all care about the same things," Harriman said. "We care about the country and its democratic principles."
"She was one of the first to say we had to be galvanized and pulled together," lawyer Anne L. Howard said of Harriman. "Now we have to establish a network across the country."
And many there were trying to do just that amid the strains of jazz donated by pianist Bob Deiner and singer Clea Bradford.
Ira Lechner, a candidate for the 10th congressional seat in Virginia, worked the crowd, greeting friends and drumming up support for his campaign. "It's too bad you couldn't vote for me," Lechner told one friend who lives out of his district.
"That's all right, I've got friends and two hands and two feet," Polly Dillard told him. "I can get out on the street and pass out leaflets."
Most of those present were concerned with the vast disparity of financial resources between the Republican and Democratic parties, what Bill Curry, a Connecticut candidate for Congress called "an extraordinary lack of balance" not only in party finances but in fund-raising abilities.
"We're all here to raise a substantial amount of money and have a helluva good time," said Peter Fenn, executive director of the PAC. Fenn was also spreading the word about the group's soon-to-be-published Democratic Fact Book, a manual designed to help candidates in the upcoming elections who cannot afford large research staffs. "When at a loss for money, we have to make up for it with ingenuity."
And last night, everyone seemed mobilized for unity and victory.
"I'm here as I have been from the start, to support her," said Averell Harriman, addressing the crowd. "That support is what Pam means and what the Democrats for the '80s mean. We're doing something."