Ken Kohrs, a 28-year-old lawyer from Kearney, Neb., was here because he had never been in a campaign and he needed "a primer" before he decided whether to run for the legislature.
Christine Long, a middle-aged housewife from Oak Park, Ill., had been a campaign volunteer for years and in 1980 gained her first paid staff position in Jimmy Carter's presidential campaign. She came to develop her "professional skills."
Joann Miller, the vice chairman of the Alexandria, Va., Democratic Committee, came to "learn the new technology" of computers and direct mail.
They were three of some 250 people from 37 states who spent the weekend at a downtown hotel, attending the first national training academy sponsored by the Democratic National Committee.
For their $95 tuition, they got a three-day series of lectures and workshops on targeting of campaigns, fund-raising, seeking support from labor and other political-action committees, opposition research, fighting the New Right, using television and other aspects of politics.
The faculty consisted of veterans of presidential campaigns and Democratic political consultants, most of them working simply for expenses.
The Republicans run such campaign schools all the time; in fact, they had a regional training session of their own going at the same time in Atlanta.
But according to Michael Berman, the former aide to former vice president Mondale who opened this session Thursday night, the last time the Democrats ran a campaign school of this size was back in 1974, when the Watergate scandal brought forth scores of congressional candidates who needed training.
Revival of the party's campaign schooling was one of the pledges Democratic National Chairman Charles T. Manatt made in seeking the post last winter, and it was Manatt who insisted that the first academy be held in his native state of Iowa.
In a kickoff speech, Manatt said Democrats will seek to find candidates for every partisan election in 1982 and assure that they are "the best prepared and best supported . . . we have ever fielded."
Ann Lewis, the DNC's political director and organizer of the academy, said a second such program will be offered in Washington in December. She estimated the cost to the party--above the tuition payments--at about $20,000.
"We can't match the Republicans on their contributions," Lewis said, "but we can give our people the tips they need to make the most of the resources they have. What's exciting is that this is the next generation we're training. I've worked in national campaigns since 1972, and I don't know most of the people who came to this session."
Many were newcomers trying to find their way through the political maze. Catherine Dunlop, 25, of Chicago, worked as a weekend volunteer in Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's 1980 campaign and now is seeking a role in Illinois Democratic politics.
"It's hard to do in Chicago," she said. "Everyone wants to know if you're an independent or a regular, and if you say you just want to be a Democrat, it's tough. But I heard about this session, so I drove over, just to improve my campaign skills, thinking it will help."
Many in the group were at Dunlop's stage in politics, but many were political pros who said they had been waiting for years for the national Democratic Party to get serious about the fundamentals of winning elections.
State Sen. Roger Wilson of Columbia, Mo., and his aide, Bob Bailey, both in their mid-30s, said they came because Missouri Democrats "are tired of our getting kicked . . . and we want to build a prototype party organization in central Missouri."
State Sen. Dave Berger of Milwaukee came, representing his party caucus, to hear the discussion about voter-targeting techniques. "I've got 35 pages of notes," he said, "and I'll give them all a typewritten memo on it when I get back."
One of the most popular--if traumatic--workshops allowed prospective candidates to go through simulated television interviews, then listen as their colleagues and campaign consultants critiqued their performance.
Don Springmeyer, a Reno, Nev., lawyer who is running for Nevada's new House seat, was given generally high marks on his answer to the MX missile question. But soneone pointed out that House rules would not allow him to "filibuster" against the MX, as he had promised, and consultant Daryl Glenny told him to avoid starting each answer with the word "Well," and to keep his head up and "look the camera in the eye."
He got off better than Minnette Doderer, an Iowa legislator, who was told that her answer to a question on her support of women's issues was "hostile," and that she should not wear a pants suit if she wanted to be taken seriously as a candidate. "I'm not running for beauty queen," she snapped.
While the emphasis was on such technical tricks as meeting a New Right challenge by preempting the use of the American eagle as a campaign symbol, the academy was also something of a warm-up rally for the 1982 campaign.
Buoyed by the troubles of the Reagan economic program, the Democrats struck an upbeat note that was climaxed by a capacity crowd of 1,800 for Saturday night's Iowa Jefferson-Jackson dinner.
Bob Beckel, a consultant who acknowledged that he had managed Carter to "the worst defeat a Democratic presidential candidate ever suffered in Texas," nonetheless said, "I guarantee you we will win at least 10 more seats in the House in 1982."
And Robert D. Squier, the television consultant, drew a laugh and cheers at a Saturday luncheon with his gag about Reagan's disclaiming any interest in the sour stock market reaction to his budget and tax cuts because he owned no stock. "He certainly owned some stocks when he was elected," Squier said, "and what I want to know is 'What did the president know, when did he know it and when did he unload them.' "