The speaker's platform at Sen. John Warner's Northern Virginia estate was packed with presidential aspirants or their stand-ins yesterday, but most eyes and all cameras were on the most famous Republican in the group -- actress Elizabeth Taylor.
Harold Stassen, the former Minnesota governor and perennial candidate, unabashedly dubbed Warner's wife, "Queen Elizabeth." And, Warner, proudly squiring her among a crush of press and guests, called her "The First Lady of Atoka," their hilltop home 40 miles west of Washington.
But to the more than 4,000 Republicans attending a $25 country supper the couple has hosted every September since their 1977 marriage, the woman on his arm was simply "Liz."
Wearing navy blue pants with a blue and white shirt unbuttoned just enough to reveal the view that made her "Cleopatra" movie famous, Mrs. Warner circulated among the crowd. At the urging of her husband, she even took the microphone mounted in front of a haystack podium.
"Oh, hi. It's nice to see you." she greeted an applauding, photo-snapping gathering. "I'm glad it didn't rain on your parade," she said, referring to the sunny weather.
Although Warner said he and his wife are staying neutral in the presidential contests at this point, she admitted to having close ties to at least one of the candidates.
"I've known Nancy [Reagan] about 10 years," she said, introducing the wife of former actor and GOP hopeful Ronald Reagan. "There we were at MGM -- well, I guess we were young -- and none of us was involved in politics at that time."
Yesterday's presidential offerings included Sen. Howard Baker (R-Tenn.), Stassen, the wives of Reagan, George Bush and Rep. Philip Crane (R-Ill.) and the daughter of Sen. Robert Dole (R-Kansas).
In addition, Virginia Gov. John N. Dalton, State Attorney General J. Marshall Coleman and several Republican officials and office speakers were on hand to talk up the Nov. 6 General Assembly and local government elections.
The stage was so jammed with Republicans that at one point during Dalton's election pep talk, three people seated at the back of the platform tumbled off. No one was injured.
With few exceptions, however, the action and comments from the crowd were more interesting than the speechmaking of the candidates.
Some examples: "What happened to Liz?" one onlooked asked his wife as the two jockeyed for a good position from which to watch the proceedings. He had momentarily lost sight of the film star but had apparently gotten a good view of her earlier in the day.
"She looked pretty good, considering," he continued. "I mean she didn't have a whole lot of makeup on or anything. This is probably a whole new thing for her."
Those who didn't trail along with the Warner-Taylor procession explored the grounds of the farm, had their pictures taken on the front steps of the couple's stone mansion and filled their plates with barbecued chicken and baked beans. But the bulk of the crowd seemed to move wherever the Warners were, even following Warner to a stage when he and Dalton's wife Eddy went square-dancing.
During appearances by the candidates or their surrogates, it was the wives who left the greatest impression on the crowd. George Bush's wife, Barbara, said candidly that she didn't like "to clap for people running against my husband. I don't like to stand up for them either but I do it because I'm a good sport."
There was also the expected politicking. Baker, exclaiming 'Good grief' at the number of Republican presidential contenders, added "that every one of them is better on a bad day than Jimmy Carter is on his best day."
But it was Philip Crane's wife, Arlene, who stopped the speechmaking completely when she unwittingly made a joke that backfired.
Noting that she and her husband have eight children, she said that their kids "can't understand why he wants to be the father of his country. But I can understand why because I think he's well equipped for the job."
The audience had already started laughing uncontrollably before Mrs. Crane could finish her sentence. Realizing how her statement had been taken, she turned red and had difficulty finishing her remarks.