Outside the Senate Caucus Room, the registration table boasted the unclaimed name tags: Sam Ervin, Edward Kennedy, Howard Baker, Daniel Inouye, Herman Talmadge, Strom Thurmond, Gary Hart.
Inside, former Watergate staffers of the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities agreed the room looked a lot smaller now, nine years after the hearings became serious competition for TV's afternoon soaps. Still, there were eerie echoes of that tense and sober time. Bright green cloths once again covered the massive table where Sam Ervin sat guiding the Senate committee through seemingly endless hours of testimony.
"It's mind-boggling," said John Elmore, former special assistant to North Carolina Attorney General Rufus Edmondston. "Compared with this, Koreagate and Abscam were a drop in the bucket."
Others viewed the gathering as a reunion of war buddies. "It's good to see you," said Fred D. Thompson, chief minority counsel during the hearings, ebulliently greeting former chief investigator Carmine Bellino.
Still others saw a lesson evolving in the 10 years separating the participants from the events. "I don't view it as so much of a celebration as a commemoration of the working of the U.S. Constitution," said Hal Smith, former press secretary for former senator Sam Ervin.
And then there was the temptation to make light of the events that kept the country on edge for nearly two years. "I ran across Bebe Rebozo the other day," said Thompson, joking with the more than 100 staffers and considerable media types, "and he wanted me to let you know he had no hard feelings."
The only former committee member present was former Florida senator Edward J. Gurney, who after Watergate was indicted on and later acquitted of charges involving his own campaign fund-raising. He was tight-lipped. "I have no speeches, no pronouncements," said Gurney, swarmed upon by eager TV cameras and journalists. "That's the thing to be in private life. I have absolutely nothing to say."