Pamela Harriman, the British-born aristocrat who has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Democrats, entertained her party's governors last night at a clubby dinner that turned into a pageant of presidential politics and Democratic might.
"I want to especially welcome my wife Helen, Senator Kennedy and Phyllis George Brown--the only three people in this room I know who are not candidates for the presidency," Democratic powerman Robert Strauss told the 400 none-too-quietly assembled at the Madison Hotel.
He had a good point. From 7 p.m. to midnight the Madison was fertile territory for presidential preening and candidate courting. In addition to the 34 governors and spouses, presidential "hopefuls" abounded.
The announced candidates on hand for poking, kissing and shoving were Walter Mondale and Colorado Sen. Gary Hart. And from The Big Mention Category: Virginia Gov. Charles Robb, Kentucky Gov. John Y. Brown, West Virginia Gov. Jay Rockefeller, and Sens. Bill Bradley (N.J.) and Ernest (Fritz) Hollings (S.C.).
But, of course, everyone was minding their manners. This was no time to tell whom you were supporting. Someone might hear.
"I think we have a good chance to capture the White House in '84," said Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy, who dramatically took himself out of the running last October. But that never seems to make a difference for Kennedy. People still surrounded him as he tried to squeeze through the cocktail reception. "We have some good candidates . . . I haven't ruled out any one person . . . I haven't yet endorsed anyone."
"I don't think there's one of them I haven't sent a check to," pondered Strauss, a tireless politician. "No one's asked me for an endorsement yet . . . I'm just waiting to be asked . . ."
At least one governor wasn't shy about speaking up, though. "I like Mondale," Nebraska's Robert Kerrey said flatly. "The guy's got heart."
And as far as Brown, Rockefeller and their White House hopes go: Brown is still thinking, and Rockefeller says simply, "No!"
For the Democrats, the $1,000-a-plate black-tie affair cohosted by the Democratic National Committee climaxed the annual winter meeting of the National Governors Conference, which is one big groan over Reaganomics this year.
"This fine group . . . already today they made the Gipper mad," DNC chairman Chuck Manatt told the crowd nibbling on crab cocktail. "And I'm shocked that the Democratic governors would come into the nation's capital within the Beltway and make the Gipper mad . . . I say the Gipper has had the country in the woodshed the last two years. Let's lay the wood to the Gipper now."
The throng hooted and whistled heartily.
The $350,000 raised will be evenly split between Harriman's political action committee and the DNC and will be used to fund candidates in the 1984 elections. Harriman will use her half for Senate races, and the DNC share will be distributed among congressional and gubernatorial candidates.
Everyone was in a fine mood. In fact, Strauss could barely calm them down to start the program. "Shut up and sit down," he kept yelling. And at times, he wasn't smiling. At one point, he even pounded the podium. But everyone ignored him.
"Vance! Vance Hartke! Will you stop talking and sit down," he called across the room. "Vance! I said sit down."
Vance finally sat down and Strauss, Manatt, Brown and Harriman were all allowed four minutes each. It very well may have been the shortest political program in history.
Following a very Republican dinner of veal francaise and cherries jubilee, musical performers Adolph Green, Betty Comden and Phyllis Newman entertained with a medley of favorites.
The candles burned down and the light came up. It was time to go.
" 'Eighty-four is long way off," said Strauss. "But this is a fine night. In politics, one night is a lifetime . . . Let's hope it keeps going just like this."