"Oh, no, Democrats never gloat," grinned Sen. Gary Hart on his way to a black-tie dinner last night for 300 of them.
Even as President Reagan has made a series of policy stumbles that could throttle his public relations?
"We can't descend on him because he has a bad week," said Sen. Jay Rockefeller. He amends: "A couple of weeks."
"That's the danger of basing your presidency on public relations," said Hart. "We don't win necessarily if he loses. Democrats are not waiting for Ronald Reagan to lose."
They're also not waiting until the 1986 election to raise funds for the Democrats who will attempt to restore the Senate to a Democratic majority. Pamela Harriman, the chairman of the political action committee called Democrats for the 80's, has already begun.
Last night, she and Sharon Percy Rockefeller hosted a dinner at the Madison Hotel given by Democrats for the 80's to raise money toward their project -- "Senate Majority '86." Robert Strauss was listed as a host, too, but, as Harriman said in her after-dinner remarks, "Bob had to be in Europe tonight," a statement that tickled the whole room.
Democrats from all over the country paid $1,000 a seat (and some gave the legal maximum contribution, $5,000) to dine with 27 senators by candlelight and tulips and not gloat over President Reagan's current problems securing congressional funding for the Nicaraguan "contras" and dealing with widespread criticism over his planned May 5 visit to Bitburg, the German military cemetery where members of the Nazi SS are buried.
Though some definitely made note of it:
"I think there's an upbeat mood," said Sen. Howard Metzenbaum during the predinner reception. "The president's series of successes has come to a halt, and I'm hopeful he'll recognize the mistake of going to Bitburg and reverse himself. And if not, I'm confident that I'll get a vote on the floor passing a resolution calling for it."
On the Bitburg visit, Sen. Paul Simon said, "I don't think there was any malice on the part of the president, but it was insensitive. It was designed to heal wounds and instead it's opened them."
"I think the president has taken some lumps," said Sen. John Glenn, "some of them of his own making. Bitburg and contra aid and a couple of others there. I forget what they are."
Said Sen. Bill Bradley, "Even in this room, you'd kind of regret that the president has taken the positions that he has recently -- especially Bitburg. It's something we should regret."
"I don't think many people are thinking about it tonight," said Rockefeller, "especially since we don't get to see the president's speech."
And no one requested a television (they were available) to watch Reagan's speech. However, during dinner, many senators were spotted leaving their tables and going to telephones.
But there was no question that the fundraiser functioned as a sort of Democratic solidarity night.
"Upbeat," said Bradley. "I think the mood is confident, even a little excited about what the future holds for the party."
"I think there's a general feeling that Democrats are coming together," said Sen. Christopher Dodd. ". . . I think we did a good job on our compromise on Nicaragua. You couldn't have gotten David Boren, Bennett Johnston and I to sit down like that a while ago."
And you could almost take your pick of Democratic senators with whom to sit down. There was Sen. John Kerry talking to Sen. Albert Gore and Sen. Alan Cranston in a black-and-white striped shirt with his tuxedo.
"Needless to say, I'm disappointed we didn't do what the House did," said Kerry, who went to Nicaragua last week, referring to the Senate approval of aid to the Nicaraguan contras. "But on the other hand we made tremendous progress and opened this up to new debate."
Post-dinner remarks had a pep rally-type quality. Harriman exhorted the crowd to work for a Democratic majority in the Senate ("I have enlisted in the battle for the duration"). Sen. George Mitchell, who introduced some of the senators, also named some of the House members present at the dinner -- and known to be thinking about taking the Senate plunge. "If you give them a special round of applause," Mitchell coaxed the group, "it will encourage them to run."
Sharon Rockefeller, in naming the new "Class of '84" senators, had the task of introducing not only her husband but Paul Simon, the man who defeated her Republican father, Charles Percy, in Illinois. She was quite up to it: "In my opinion," she said, "the senator from that state has a pretty tough act to follow. He is succeeding a very competent and caring senator -- which I know he will be, too."
And to round off the evening, the Democrats auctioned off a box at the Kentucky Derby -- parties included -- which was donated by Louisville Mayor Harvey Sloane and his wife, Kathy. The winning bid: $22,000 from Dallas businessman Thomas Gaubert.
"I've never been to a Kentucky Derby," Gaubert said puffing on a cigar. "I like supporting Democrats."
"I really thought somebody was going to outbid me," he laughed.