Nobody wanted the "frustration pencils." Not one bid was heard for the fuzzy-tipped writing implements meant to beguile frustrated voters in some long ago House of Delegates race.
That didn't frustrate the auctioneer. He put aside the pencils and quickly proceeded to the next item up for bid: campaign literature from Virginia Gov. John Dalton. No one wanted that either.
But although the bidding on political memorabilia was moving slowly at this Republican fundraising auction, those bidding for political office moved at lightning pace among the 250 Montgomery County Republican luminaries gathered at Republican National Committee member Louise Gore's Potomac mansion for the occasion.
"This is very exciting. I can see Reagan people, Bush people. Connally people," said Gore, toying with her pearls as she surveyed the revelers "But everyone will go out of their way not to bring politics into tonight. This is our togetherness event. The fight will come later."
Yet campaign fever was as thick as the fall leaves that coated the 300-acre estate on the chilly October night. Prosperouse-looking men in tweed suits accompanied by women swathed in furs, glowed in the candlelight as they shook hands, clinked glasses and hobnobbed with those wooing their votes and their checkbooks.
Fresh from announcing his intent to regain his House of Representatives seat former congressman Newton Steers circulated through the crowd. Cissy Baker, the 23-year-old daughter of Howard Baker, the Tennessee senator hoping for the Republican presidential nonmination, was plugging for her father.
Local representatives like Constance Morella and Howard Denis chatted with old friends and loyal supporters, the Republican hardcore in a predominantly Democratic county. All seemed buoyed with optimism for the Republicans.
"I've never seen the Republican Party in better shape than it is right now," said Steers.
They had gathered for the biannual event held by the Montgomery County Federation of Republican Women. The 58-year-old group, which boasts more than 1,000 members, regularly enriches Republican campaign coffers via a raffle, cocktail party of other fundraising fetes.
This year political memorabilia was to be auctioned off, and among the accumlated Grand Old Party tresures were an uncirculated dollar bill signed by John Connally in his days as secretary of the treasury, an "I like Ike" bottle of perfume donated by Mamie, and a Ronald Reagan autographed pen.
Although most of the crowd were drawn more to the live Republicans present than to their souvenir mementos, there were some earnest auction attendees -- enough to ultimately raise $1,500 from the evening.
"Do I hear $25?" called the auctioneer at one point.
" $27," called Nancy Long, a liberal Republican Glen Echo town council member.
" $28," shouted someone else.
Caught in auction fever, Long bid $30. And it was hers: one metal ashtray emblazoned with the House of Representatives seal, donated by Rep. Robert E. Bauman (R-Md.).
"Oh dear," sighed Long. "I thought I was bidding on the tour." Long had wanted to vie for the next item on the list, an Annapolis tour for four with Jane Gude, wife of former congressman Gilbert Gude.
"I'd rather not have that," she said sweetly when she was handed the ashtray. She shrugged. "Maybe I can auction it off to a conservative."