The slender brunette in a black sheath and white fitted jacket leans forward and, in an elegant cursive script rarely seen these days, writes: "Frank -- What an exciting, fun genius you are! Many thanks for all you have accomplished for us and for our nation! Wishing you all the very best always. With deepest respect and highest regard, Katherine."
The inscribee is Frank Luntz -- Republican pollster, strategist, phrasemaker and corporate marketeer -- who has dispensed advice to the likes of one-time House speaker Newt Gingrich, New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, maverick presidential candidate Ross Perot and no-descriptors-required Playboy magazine (he studied its sinking circulation).
The writer is Katherine Harris, two-term GOP congresswoman from Sarasota and, more importantly, the Florida secretary of state who played a key role in helping George W. Bush win the White House in 2000.
The object across which she guides her ever-present calligraphy pen is a Palm Beach County voting machine of the sort that produced those notorious hanging chads and the most bitterly contested American presidential election of the 20th century. Then she writes an equally florid message on a yellow ballot, oblivious to the all-star baseball game blasting on a nearby television and the bipartisan buzz of 200 pols, Hill staffers, journos, lobbyists, lawyers and bureaucrats schmoozing and sweltering indoors and out at Luntz's annual, mid-July barbecue.
Several days later, glancing at the autograph on the machine at the bottom of his rec room stairs, Luntz, 43, smiles broadly: "That personalizes, individualizes and humanizes this piece of history." But the coveted electoral artifact is hardly the first object a visitor sees upon entering this once-modest 1948 McLean rambler that a previous owner had transformed into a light and open California-style suburban villa. Not by a long shot.
Walk through the front door directly into the living room and behold sentinels on either side: a five-foot carved Uncle Sam statue on the right and a life-size cop on the left. The inanimate gents are flanked by a pair of guitars in open cases. The red, white and blue Gibson was specially made for Luntz by the company CEO, and the strategist later got Dick Cheney and Guiliani to autograph it. He bought the other, signed by Paul McCartney, at an auction.
Across the room, bathed in the light of a wall of glass, sits a gleaming motorcycle, acquired at a charity fundraiser, its stars-and-stripes paint job evoking Dennis Hopper's iconic chopper from the counterculture flick "Easy Rider." And on the floor by the kickstand? A pile of Hillary Clinton "Right-Wing Conspiracy" doormats.
"My house is my dream and my mother's nightmare," Luntz says with laugh as he describes his early years in Hartford, Conn. Phyllys Luntz was a neat freak who banished to a far corner of the basement the cherishables of her dentist husband, Lester -- including a gift from Frank, a picture of a Chinese dentist drilling a patient's tooth. The son fared no better.
"There was nothing on my walls as a child. Zero. No posters, nothing. My house was pristine. You could eat off the floor. There were plastic slipcovers on the living room furniture that stayed there until I said I was embarrassed to have friends over . . . The dining room was completely off limits. You could be grounded for life for setting foot in there."
So when he grew up, Luntz created his own fun house, buying whatever tickled his fancy as his political, corporate and media ventures grew. Over the years, he has covered wall after grip-and-grin wall with beautifully framed photos of himself next to everyone from Ronald Reagan and Menachem Begin to Dr. Ruth and MC Hammer. "Everything is something I have experienced," Luntz says.
His home is so jammed with political, historical, pop cultural and sporting memorabilia it is hard to discern an over-riding design philosophy.
"Each room is different," he explains. On the right side of the house, just beyond the skylit kitchen, is a media room boasting a 70-inch television, a killer sound system and a plush leather sectional sofa with an attached recliner that puts the insomniac Luntz out like a light.
"Federal style in the living room and dining room. I always liked the 1820s and '30s -- maroon, white and blue with a Federal feel," he says. That explains the opposing navy and ivory sofas, burgundy wing chair and inlaid wood-and-gilt reproduction 19th-century tables. The square one to the right of the door holds one of Luntz's favorite things, a cookie jar bearing the likeness of civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks, which sits just inches from a set of Russian-style nesting dolls of America's Middle Eastern enemies, with Osama Bin Laden the largest, followed by a smaller Saddam Hussein, Yasser Arafat et al. Covering the floor are Oriental rugs and runners picked up on business trips to Qatar, Dubai and Turkey.
"If you want the key to my house, every stamp in my passport has an item in my house, things that I want to remember," he says.
The first global collectible he recalls buying, an oil portrait of Albert Einstein now in his bedroom, was acquired 20 years ago in Poland "to commemorate meeting Lech Walesa and other underground leaders," says Luntz, then an Oxford student, who turned those encounters into a National Review cover story, which is framed on a rec room wall.
He hasn't stopped collecting since. Today, he is as fond of the "Shabbat observer" hangtag from the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, where, at 17, he met Begin while touring Israel with his parents, as he is of the 1912 letter signed by Theodore Roosevelt that contains "the first historic mention I have ever found of survey research," from that year's presidential race, which Roosevelt and William Howard Taft lost to Woodrow Wilson.
Only his bedroom/office, in a wing that also houses two guestrooms, provides the slightest relief from visual overload. Its dominant artworks include a contemporary rendering of an ancient clay urn that hung in the old Desert Inn in Las Vegas until the hotel was demolished to make way for the uber-glam Wynn Las Vegas hotel (Luntz does work for owner Steve Wynn).
The curved desk and computer are nestled in a corner that is all windows, through which can be seen a tiki bar, gloriously blooming flowers (red, white and blue, of course) and a pool filled with silly inflatables.
The bedroom is just steps from the magazine and newspaper repository, with hundreds of historic publications piled on a table or displayed on shelves for friends to read. If the publications fray or crumble with repeated handling, well, so be it, Luntz says ruefully.
Even the old front pages that line the wall leading downstairs -- each blaring a wrong-wrong-headline like All Titanic Passengers Saved or Dewey Defeats Truman -- are in easy-to-open frames for further perusal. Ditto for other front pages blaring major world events, which cover a basement wall by the pool table. Nearby is a life-size Native American figure (bought in Santa Fe) wearing a Bill Clinton mask and sitting in the electric-chair contraption used as a prop on "The Addams Family" TV show. This absurdist tableau is probably 20 paces from the newly autographed voting machine.
"People like to call this the Smithsonian West," he says. "It isn't. It's a house where people come to play and learn."
But not everything is so upbeat in LuntzLand, where the single curator laments that his social life is "awful. That's why this house is just me." A recent romance went bust, and even if he finds Ms. Right (or Far Right) she probably won't be able to fit much more than her clothes into his packed pleasure dome.
"What I need is a woman with two kids, about 5 and 8, so it could be, like, just add water and stir and you've got an instant family."
Of course there would be that little matter of child-proofing the place.
Annie Groer writes about interior design, decor and collecting for The Post's Home section.