Cameras! Chaos! Mouths a-yacking!
Moments after the 12 Democratic and Republican presidential contenders wrapped it up last night at NBC's bipartisan debate, the atrium of the Kennedy Center was converted into a prom, a fire sale, a carnival, a mini-political convention.
The stage at the Eisenhower Theater may have been a bit busy with the many men who would be president -- but the party that followed was downright nuts.
Pandemonium prevailed as the players were accosted upon entering the huge foyer. It seemed that all the networks and major publications were on hand. Devoted aides were speaking in earnest to journalists. And many of the candidates showed up just to make sure that one last point was made.
"I was appalled at the treatment of AIDS as a joke," said Democrat Al Gore, taking a swipe at George Bush for his line about being depressed over the debate and wanting to switch channels to "Jake and the Fatman." The remark came during a discussion of AIDS policy, and Gore felt the vice president was making a joke at the expense of AIDS victims.
"None of the Democrats have experience in foreign policy," announced Al Haig moments after the debate. "They are totally naive -- even dangerous."
As Haig moved from camera crew to camera crew, from reporter to reporter, his campaign manager, Brian Sweeney, helped out in the background. "Didn't he look great up there?" asked Sweeney. "It looked like Al Haig and his Cabinet."
The party room was crawling with camera crews and political junkies. Far be it for this group to formally anoint a winner -- but of course, everyone had an opinion.
"Du Pont was good; Robertson ran into a wall," said political consultant Robert Squier, who, incidentally, is a Democrat.
Said Craig Fuller, chief of staff to the vice president -- who was whisked away in his motorcade and did not make it to the party -- "Some people tried to take a few shots and missed. All in all, it was a very good evening for George Bush."
On the Republican side, only Haig could be spotted at the party. While the others were available on the stage following the debate, none came upstairs. The Democrats made a stronger showing. Gore, Paul Simon, Jesse Jackson and Bruce Babbitt stopped by to do what is commonly called "spin control."
"Here you go, poppa," said Jeanne Simon, handing her husband a glass of wine. "You did real well tonight."
For his part, Simon said his recent rise in the polls made him somewhat of a target last night. "No question about it," he said. "I did get more scrutiny. And that's fine, as long as it doesn't get personal."
Jackson, who always seems to attract the most media attention, told everyone who asked, "I benefit in these forums because I don't run a high-budget campaign. I think I told the voters that I offer leadership. I've been there. When people can see and contrast, I think they will distinguish."
By 1 a.m. the last camera crew had left, the waiters were pouring white wine back into the jugs, and the red, white and blue balloons were being popped.
On to Iowa.
Nina Killham contributed to this story.