They came in their sports cars and sedans, bearing Ronald Reagan's name on their bumpers, collars and lapels. Many among them had watched Reagan, the matinee idol, on the screen in their youth, but yesterday they saw him on a different screen.
Inside a meeting room at the Silver Spring Holiday Inn, 200 Maryland Republicans, most of them longtime party faithful, became part of a national grass roots drive to recruit the votes of disillusioned Democrats, Independents and apathetic Republicans.
Republicans in 486 locations around the country and in the District were doing the same thing. They called it "Commitment '80."
The men, women and children took seats in front of a huge television screen, and settled in for a heart-to-heart session, via satellite, with Reagan and a few top Republican strategists.
They saw a larger-than-life Reagan look them straight in the eyes and say, "We're not afraid, we're dispirited; we're not burnt out, we're indifferent." He closed with the promise: "The best is still before us."
They heard Republican officials say that Jimmy Carter had damaged the country, that Ronald Reagan can heal it. Strategist Richard Wirthlin narrowed his gaze and warned that Carter will use the powers of incumbency "to make our task very difficult indeed. . . . The main weapon (to combat those powers) is personal contact."
That's where the 200 Marylanders were to come in. They were to become "a volunteer army of hundreds of thousands of people," Wirthlin said. "The future of America hinges on you."
Each person at yesterday's session was asked to invite 10 others to his home next Saturday, when Reagan will address the nation in his first televised broadcast of the campaign. After that, they would recruit more supporters to join them on Oct. 4 for a door-to-door canvass for Republican candidates for local and national offices.
The grand finale, of course, is election day, Nov. 4, when the new Republican army hopes to triumph.
The idea of Commitment '80 is to use the people like Anne Bastian to reach people like Sharon Navarra. Both were in the Silver Spring audience yesterday.
Bastian of Gaithersburg, a devotee of Ronald Reagan since her teens when she wrote away for the then-movie star's autographed photo, said she didn't need anyone to fire her up to work for the Republican ticket.
Navarra, a registered Democrat who said she is disillusioned by President Carter's record, wasn't sure at the outset of the meeting how hard she would be working for Reagan.
Both women watched attentively throughout the broadcast, as did their cohorts. They pledged allegiance to the flag, bowed their heads through a prayer by the Rev. Claude Bonbrest, an Episcopal priest from Laytonsville who wore three Reagan buttons on his jacket, and cheered throughout a speech by montgomery County Reagan-Bush committee chairman Forbes Blair.
With the rousing tones of a circus announcer, Blair introduced all the local dignitaries, and stressed that the audience was watching Reagan "live," although other audiences around the state and the nation watched taped messages.
Just before Reagan appeared live on the screen, however, there was a taped film filled with snatches of Reagan's acceptance speech in Detoit. When the nominee's face popped on the screen, Blair hollered: "Let's hear it for that man." After the first few times, the audience voluntarily thundered whenever the camera showed their candidate.
The room was decorated with five Reagan-Bush posters that said, "The Time is Now," and by a special display of Republican campaign buttons with messages such as "Pisces for Reagan," "Scorpios for Reagan," "Virgos for Reagan" and so on. There were also Dump Carter buttons, and several saying "A Carter aide shot J. R." as well as one with Hebrew-style letters that said, "You don't have to be Jewish to vote against Carter."
In the District, Republicans gathered early at the Thomas Circle Holiday Inn to buy drinks from the cash bar, and to listen to Reagan's pep talk piped into a television set screen.
The D.C. Republicans, outnumbered by Democrats almost 10-to-1, seemed oblivious to the predictions of most pollsters that the Reagan-Bush ticket has virtually no chance of winning the District's three electoral votes. Instead, local party Chairman Robert Carter -- who managed Reagan's nominating convention in Detroit -- touted the two D.C. Reagan campaign co-chairmen and unveiled a full slate of local Republican candidates for the D.C. City Council.
Carter also told the 100 or so Republicans crammed into the second-floor meeting room that Reagan could win the black vote in the District. "When that (black) person goes into the store and sees the price of groceries go up, he's as mad as I am," Carter said.
In Silver Spring, the audience was a prism of Montgomery County Republicans -- most of them well dressed, all but a few of them white and more than half of them in their 40s and older. Several of them said they hope to broaden the party's base during "Commitment '80."
Several national campaign officials were on hand -- the session, they said, was a showcase of Commitment '80 because of its proximity to Washington. They noted that Maryland is a pivotal state in their national strategy since Carter won it by a narrow (50,000 votes) margin in 1976, and since the state is weighted with blue-collar workers and ethnic voters -- two of the traditionally Democratic constituencies that Reagan hopes to lure to the GOP.
The Reagan pep talk was followed by a film clip of Reagan at the Republican convention, bowing his head in silent prayer during his acceptance speech. Reagan's head faded out and the face of the Statue of Liberty was superimposed over it as strains of "America" filtered through the soundtrack.
After a silent prayer for the American hostages in Iran, Blair led the audience in a pep-rally style cheer for Reagan: "Give me an R . . . . ." In recognition of those who supported George Bush in the primaries, and as a show of unity, he then led an equally spirited, "Give me a B . . .."
Anne Bastian, 48, the longtime Reagan devotee, said afterward that she found the film inspiring, but "I didn't need firing up. I AM fired up."
For Sharon Navarra, 36, a California Democrat who moved here two years ago and voted for Jerry Brown in the May presidential primary, the effect was more significant. She realized, she said, that the production was intended to be theatrical, "But it influenced me, it really did. I'm kind of new to this political thing."
She and her neighbor, Evelyn Bandemer, decided afterwards that they would give a party next Saturday for Reagan's televised address. They also collected some Reagan-Bush buttons and bumper stickers on their way out.
"At one time, I was apathetic about politics," Navarra said. "But I've come to the conclusion that you just can't be that way anymore.'