Victory? Defeat? Polls? Such questions seemed largely irrelevant to the crowd of 200 or more suburbanites who gathered in the Chevy Chase home of Ellen and Bob Steele last night. What mattered was John Anderson -- the candidate, the platform, the opportunity to vote for someone they could like.
For this, they paid $50 apiece to eat brie cheese, steak tartare, salmon mousse and chopped liver and to see their candidate as he made his last campaign visit to Maryland before the Nov. 4 election.
Clustered in small groups in the living room, the den and the porch of the Steele's comfortable home, Anderson's supporters did not predict victory for the independent presidential candidate, who has slipped to an 8 percent rating in the latest Gallup poll. Nobody seemed to mention aloud the possibility of defeat.
Instead, they cheered Anderson for the way he was playing the game -- and then pointed out that their votes would be cast for the right reasons, not the wrong ones.
"If you're for Anderson or Carter or whoever you're for," explained Tom Robertson, "you shouldn't vote for person No. 3 to prevent person No. 2 from beating person No. 1 . . . you have to believe that you're voting for the best person for the job."
"I believe in voting for someone whose policies I believe in," said retired foreign service officer Paul O'Neill, who, like Robertson, is registered as an independent -- a "decline" in the phraseology of Maryland voting officials. "It's disappointing, but not surprising that the polls indicate that Anderson is losing ground," he added, a little wistfully.
"The polls," declared Ann Joseph, "are irrelevant. [Voting for Anderson] is the only way to express your disenchantment with the two major candidates."
"And if all the people who said 'I'll vote for him if he has a chance' actually voted for him, he'd have a chance," added Mary Ellen McCabe, 37, who has supported Anderson since she saw him interviewed by Walter Cronkite months ago. "I've given him my money, I've given him my time and I've decided that a vote for Anderson is a vote for Anderson."
There was no time to say more, because Anderson was coming in the door of the Steele's Kerry Road home. At 8:25, he was nearly an hour behind schedule, but that did little to mar the enthusiasm of those inside. "Heeeere's Johnny, Here comes Johnny," crowed Ellen Steele as she and several Secret Service agents cleared a path to the podium set up in the living room corner.
Cheers and a smattering of "yahoos" came from the dining room and the fireplace corner. Then the applause died down until Anderson said he would not become "discouraged or disappointed" by political forecasts until "the real poll is taken" on Nov. 4.
Then, grinning, he urged his supporters not to become "pollerized. That's spelt P-O-L-L-E-R-I-Z-E-D."
In all, his visit took up half an hour of the 2 1/2 hour affair -- an affair that pumped $10,000 or more into his national campaign coffers. "He's been spending so much of his time shuttling between New York and Los Angeles, we were lucky to get him," said his Maryland press spokesman, Olivia Dorn.
In a few cases, luck, friendship or curiousity played as much of a role in last night's donations as did political beliefs. For among the throngs of faithful supporters, there were several who paid the entrance fee just to look at Anderson in person -- and at least two whose political loyalties lay elsewhere, but whose personal loyalties to the Steeles outweighed any questions of politics.
"I don't support Anderson . . . my wife and I are going to vote for Reagan," said attorney J. Wallace Adair. "But my friend is giving a party for him and I support my friends."