The invitations, sent to students throughout Orange County, offer free admission to "An All-American Evening" featuring Olympic athletes, live music and dancing to "current hits" at the Westin South Coast Plaza Hotel on Monday night.
A cartoon caricature of an elephant gallops across the invitation's trendy, designer-style geometric background. The elephant is saddled with a banner proclaiming, "Let's Go, GOP."
Wait a minute! Current hits at a Republican event? A galloping elephant? Come on! There must be at least \o7 one \f7 concession to the pre-Calvin Klein generation here somewhere.
Ah, there it is: "Sport coats suggested."
More than 200 teen-agers and young adults are expected to attend the dance, the second this year designed to attract new blood to the Republican Party and to challenge the Democrats' supposed appeal to the Yuppies.
Study in Contrast
Meanwhile, a few miles away in a small office above a Santa Ana travel agency, the local Democratic Party's extensive files and phones go mostly unused and unanswered. Volunteers show up once in a while to return messages and open the mail.
The Democrats pledged to rebuild after a poor showing in the 1984 elections, but so far their major success has been to resurrect the Foundation, a $1,000-per-year Democratic fund-raising organization, and to create the Associates, a $50-per-year subsidiary. The two groups have 300 members combined, a major achievement by local political standards. But they're still no match for the larger, more influential, wealthier Republican Lincoln Club and the county GOP Central Committee's Silver Circle group.
Indeed, despite recent successes by the two Democratic fund-raising organizations, including back-to-back events featuring Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), several Democratic activists are complaining that the local party is in disarray.
The county Democratic Central Committee has only $5,000 in the bank, no executive director and few if any programs to attract new members. In contrast, the county GOP Central Committee has $50,000, a paid staff and executive director, and continuing outreach efforts that have targeted--and attracted--youth and ethnic minorities.
Moreover, the county Democratic Central Committee has feuded openly with the Foundation over the proposed joint use of an executive director. Foundation members complain that county Democratic Chairman Bruce Sumner wanted them to pay the director's $30,000 annual salary without granting any control over how much time the director would spend on Foundation versus Central Committee business.
"The Foundation wanted to have a director who would work on fund raising, raising enough funds to pay his or her own salary, and the party certainly has a broader application than fund raising," Sumner said of the dispute.
"The Foundation decided to go ahead and have its own director. . . . We hope that the Central Committee will have its own person, too, but we can't do that until we're better off financially," he said.
The Foundation has engaged the services of professional headhunter Frank Giardino in a statewide search for an executive director. Foundation Chairman David Stein, the wealthy Laguna Beach developer, has previously used Giardino in his personal business dealings.
Gap Worst Since 1960s
Officials from both parties acknowledge that even when the Democrats are doing well in Orange County, as they did in the mid-1970s when a majority of the county's state legislators and county supervisors were Democrats, they have been less organized and not nearly as well-funded as the Republicans.
But some activists say the current gap is the worst since the staunchly conservative John Birch Society had its heyday in the early and mid-1960s.
Morale is low, partly because the party's share of registered voters is slipping. Although Orange County ranks second in the state, behind Los Angeles County, in the number of Democrats, the percentage of voters registered as Democrats has slipped from 45.8% in August, 1978, to 37.1% now. In the same seven years, the GOP has increased its share to 52.2% from 45.5%.
There are internal fights that involve differing styles and personalities, but there is also an ideological battle for control of the party, according to some activists.
These same activists say the struggle pits party insiders who tend to be old-guard political technicians, many with ties to organized labor and former Vice President Walter Mondale, against so-called outsiders, including some of the Yuppies who flocked to U.S. Sen. Gary Hart's unsuccessful presidential effort and who talk of "new ideas."
Caught in the middle, and frequently a target of criticism from the old guard, is Chairman Sumner.
An articulate, silver-haired former Superior Court judge and state legislator, Sumner has spent much of his time out on the lecture and fund-raising circuit. With the help of Stein, a Gary Hart confidant and financier, he has helped rejuvenate the Foundation.
Called Weak on Organizing