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Grand Old Party's Younger Set Has Caucus for the Uncommitted

August 05, 1988|SUSAN CHRISTIAN | Susan Christian is a regular contributor to Orange County Life.

They came for the party--the party that converged in Garden Grove last week and the party that will converge in New Orleans next week.

"Charge those to the Dukakis campaign," Barry Zanck facetiously instructed the Peppers Restaurant waitress as she served another round of cocktails.

Looking a little overwhelmed by the courtyard full of pinstriped suits and tailored dresses, the waitress complained, "I'm having trouble remembering who ordered what; I can't tell you people apart."

Her handsomely homogenous customers, mingling among each other with an after-work glow, represented about one-sixth of the 300-member Young Republicans of Orange County.

Not surprisingly, the county boasts one of the largest Young Republican chapters in the country. Local membership places second in the state behind Los Angeles County--which, unlike its cohesive southern neighbor, consists of many fragmented groups rather than one united powerhouse.

Young Republicans, by mandate, have two characteristics in common: They are registered Republicans, and their ages range from 18 to 40.

Orange County Young Republicans, by happenstance, have a few more characteristics in common: For the most part, they are in their late 20s and early 30s, are urban professionals, and they are single. On the last Thursday of every month, they gather with name tags in place and beers in hand to celebrate their similarities.

"Check out the action here--it's a meat market," noted a member, who requested that her observation go unattributed.

But however festive their soiree, most attendees said they joined the organization more for its philosophy than for its frivolity.

"The purpose of the club is to propel members into political activism," said chapter vice president Beth Raff, 28, of Irvine. "We use the social draw to pull people in."

"You become more politically aware in the club," said social chairman Mike Vahl. "The parties are the icing on the cake."

It's a dirty job, but somebody has to make sure that the icing's recipe will keep people coming back for more. "We put on the biggest parties in the state," bragged Vahl, 30. "Especially in the off years, when elections aren't going on, you have to do things to hold members' interest."

Vahl, a Newport Beach computer consultant, is a lot like that universal fraternity guy everyone knew and liked in their college days. He tells stories of rollicking good times--such as when he jumped on stage at the national convention of Young Republicans in Seattle last year and performed Beach Boys hits.

"As Arthur (in the movie by that same name) said, 'Isn't fun the best thing to have?' " Vahl said.

His largest project of the year is the annual Inaugural Ball, presented in January to install new officers. Republicans young and old, high-ranking and non-ranking, assemble from around the state to attend the fancy shindig.

What happens if Michael Dukakis is sworn in as the next President mere days before the fete? Won't that put a damper on merrymaking?

"Nah, we'll rise to the occasion," Vahl said.

"Well, I think it would put a pretty big damper on the party," interjected Raff, an advertising saleswoman.

Raff and her husband make up one of the club's few married couples. "We're a little outnumbered," conceded Doug Raff, 28, a medical equipment salesman.

His wife estimated that 30% of the county's members are married, but Chuck Roberts of Costa Mesa argued that the statistic is closer to 5%. A discussion started among eavesdroppers, most of whom figured that 10% is probably closer to the mark.

"Oh. I was counting a married couple as one person," said Roberts, showing his bachelor colors.

For the 90% who are single, the club provides a matchmaking milieu. "You automatically have common viewpoints with the other Young Republicans," said David Vernon Skinner, 27, a lawyer who lives in Newport Beach.

"Like any single person, I find it difficult to meet people with whom I share . . . beliefs," said Nancy Cummings, 33, a dry-cleaning manager in Irvine. "That was part of my reason for joining Young Republicans: to make new friends. It worked; I dated someone I met here for over a year."

Garden Grove resident Paula Phelps, on the other hand, said she avoids becoming involved with fellow chapter members. "When you break up, you have to keep seeing each other at meetings, which is awkward," the sales consultant said.

How important is it to a Young Republican that a mate share political beliefs?

Here's how the men answered that question:

Skinner: "I'm not a fanatic. It's not one of the first things I ask a girl--'Are you a Republican?' "

Daniel E. Skinner, David's twin brother and also a lawyer: "I don't check out her voter's registration before I ask a woman out."

Then on a less serious note: "The way she looks is much more important to me than whether or not she's a Republican."

Zanck: "If she were a 10, I'd marry a Communist. A Democrat would have to be an 11."

Roberts: "Some of my best friends are Democrats. Differences in opinion are what make life spicy."

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