One veteran Florida politico who has attended many an inauguration will be celebrating President Reagan's on Jan. 21 back home in Palm Beach because: "My feet hurt too much, so I'm not coming." A Republican state chairman who lives closer to Washington will attend the swearing-in, but skip the ball and entertainment gala. "One's too crowded," he said with disdain. "The other's too expensive."
And South Carolina legislator John Courson, a Reagan booster since 1976 who viewed the president's first inauguration with awe, won't be here this time around. "There's not any emotion in politics that can ever happen to me that would exceed my feeling in January 1981," Courson said. "This would be a downer after that experience."
Inaugural planners predicted yesterday that this inauguration will draw about the same number of guests as Reagan's first, and indeed, there is a mad scramble for tickets to some events -- the swearing-in at the Capitol and the presidential gala produced by Frank Sinatra. Still, some party faithful around the country have been struck by inaugural ennui.
"It is the nature of the beast," said inaugural committee chairman Ron Walker. "Four years ago there was great euphoria -- a newness, taking over the White House and the administra-tion . . . . But historically and traditionally, second inaugurations are less exciting."
Signs of the change have cropped up all over. In 1981, it was impossible to get a hotel room weeks before the inauguration. Yesterday, thousands were available, including scores at the Capital Hilton and Washington Hilton, site of one of the inaugural balls. The Sheraton Washington, another ball site, even put out press releases to drum up business.
At National Airport, a spokesman for Butler Aviation, which handles private planes, said, "It's the second go-round and Butler itself is not expecting as large a crowd as last time."
Republican lobbyists were frankly surprised. "It's very unusual," said one. "I've been around town for three Republican inaugurations . . . and this time there are not people beating down doors or beating on us for tickets."
"This time it's more business people, CEOs chief executive officers coming to rub shoulders with other CEOs," said another lobbyist, "rather than the jet set and the Beautiful People."
Washington has not seen the inauguration of a Republican incumbent since Richard Nixon's in 1973, and before that, Dwight Eisenhower's in 1957.
Inaugural planners offer several explanations for the second-inauguration syndrome that appears to be cutting the number of visitors.
"Remember, many of the people who came from out-of-town last time now work here," said inaugural press chief Jim Lake. "They're political appointees, or work in the White House or up on the Hill."
Walker said the final count isn't in yet. His committee is still taking reservations for ball tickets at the rate of 1,000 a day.
"There were 1,700 phone calls to the switchboard Monday," he said, and tickets for some of the nine official balls are still available.
While some of the party regulars may not turn out this time, according to Walker, the committee has reached out to a broader range of party workers, including people who answered phones or stuffed envelopes in the last campaign.
"Our computer tells us a tremendous cross section of people will be at the balls Monday," he said, as many as 45,000 to 52,000 guests -- about the same number as in 1981.
The "hottest tickets" in town, according to Republicans here and elsewhere, are for the Jan. 21 swearing-in on the Capitol's West Front -- which are free and are parceled out through Senate and House offices -- and for the Saturday entertainment gala.
"Oh God, it seems like all we've had are calls for tickets, and we've had 15 requests for every ticket we had," said an aide to Rep. Stan Parris (R-Va.).
The office of Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), a one-time candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, has even gotten calls from the White House and the Reagan-Bush committee scrounging for tickets, an aide said.
The gala tickets, which go for up to $200, are another story. There are only 12,000 for the event at the D.C. Convention Center, and they are long gone.
"The word went around Tennessee that that was the thing to go to," said Tennessee Republican Chairman Susan Richardson-Williams. "My life was a nightmare for weeks."
And Sheila Tate, Nancy Reagan's press secretary, said she got a plea for help from an unexpected supplicant. "Joe Canzeri, the chairman of the gala, called and wanted to buy my tickets."