Early last summer, shortly before the Republican National Committee's June meeting, Allan Levey drove to the McMannes Inc. novelty firm on MacArthur Boulevard in Washington and ordered 1,000 small blue-and-white buttons bearing the legend "VVP."
Thus was launched the Montgomery County dentist's personal crusade to put Guy Vander Jagt, a little-known Michigan congressman and a fellow University of Michigan alumnus, in the vice-presidential spot on the Republican national ticket in 1980.
The buttons never were distributed. Levey found a cadre of Vander Jagt supporters working with him agreed this would be gauche and politically unwise. Short of renting a sound truck to drive through Republican national committee meetings, Levey has done everything in his power to convince his party's hierarchy of Vander Jagt's virtues as an orator, a hard party worker and an all-around Republican.
When the congressman and former Yale divinity student was chosen as the keynote speaker for the Republican national convention, Levey positively bubbled over.
"Did you see?" he said, in a phone call to a reporter last May. "Vander Jagt got it. He got it!"
"Allan has lobbied every national committee meeting since June 1979," said Alex Ray, a Republican national committee staffer who also is pushing Vander Jagt for vice president. "He's attended two or three meetings a week about this for the last year. He's made 20 or 30 phone calls a week.
"He's just euphoric on the subject of Vander Jagt."
This display of political constancy and single-mindedness on Levey's part brings a faint look of wonder to the eyes of some Maryland Republican party workers, who made Levey, a relative newcomer to state politics, their state party chairman 18 months ago.
The Allan Levey they know is a political chameleon long on enthusiasm, short on ideology, a man for whom maneuvering is the essential element of politics -- not conviction. He believes in the Republican Party, he believes in Guy Vander Jagt, and most of his other beliefs have been determined by the needs of the moment.
In this presidential election year, he started out supporting John Connally, took a look at Howard Baker before moving to George Bush, and now is firmly behind Ronald Reagan.
All of this was unofficial, of course. Party functionaries are required to stay neutral in primary season, but Levey is by nature a cheerleader and his enthusiasm of the moment inevitably shows through.
When the Maryland convention delegation met this morning to take a secret ballot on their vice presidential preference, an appreciative chuckle bounced through the room when the results were announced: Bush, 19; Rep. Jack Kemp, 9; Baker, 1; Vander Jagt, 1.
"I don't think anyone in the delegation minds" Levey's work on behalf of Vander Jagt, said former Sen. J. Glenn Beall. "I like to see someone support another man as thoroughly as he is."
Lawrence J. Hogan only wishes Levey had been as steadfast a supporter when he needed him. The Prince George's County Executive came to the state Republican convention in Ocean City last May pushing hard to be chosen chairman of the national committee delegation. Levey had been Hogan's finance chairman during the 1978 campaign: Hogan had worked on his friends's behalf when party moderates beat back a conservative bid to win the state party chairmanship.
Levey was one of those who decided, with some agonizing, that Hogan had soured his chances by his agressiveness and that, in the interests of unity, liberal U.S. Sen. Charles M. C. Mathias and conservative Rep. Robert Bauman should be cochairmen in Detroit.
Even this morning, Levey abandoned his fellow moderates when the delegation took its straw poll on whether or not the state should support any amendments of the party's conservative platform.
"Was that a vote of party over principle?" Levey was asked immediatedly afterward.
"I felt very bad about what happened in Ocean City," Levey said this afternoon."Larry is a close friend of mine." The two have hardly spoken since.
"I felt bad about my vote this morning," Levey added. "Those people who voted [to open the platform to amendment] were all my close personal friends and they got me elected party chairman.
"But it's so important for us to stay unified. It's so important for us to win this election . . . My loyalty is to the party."
His work on the party's behalf has not gone unnoticed. When he took over the party chairmanship in January, Republicans in Maryland were almost moribund, beaten down by fierce intraparty conflicts and their woeful record of electoral success in a stae where about three-quarters of all elected officials are Democrats.
"My initial response to him was that his high hopes and high ideals of turning the party around were overly optimistic," said national committee official Ray. But look at what he's done." For the first time in years, the party's account books show a surplus of more than $50,000, and more importantly, they have loose-leaf folders full of plans for the future.
Today, Levey finds it hard to concetrate on the future. All he can think about is Vander Jagt's keynote speech -- and the vice-presidential spot that might come to Vander Jagt if he does it well.
"I'm as nervous as I've been about anything in my life . . . Right now we're in a position where Vander Jagt's a phone call away from being nominated for vice president."
"If Vander Jagt gets the nomination," Alex Ray said, "it's because he gave the keynote speech.
And he got the chance to give the keynote speech because of Allan Levey."