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GOP CONVENTION '96 | FROM THE FLOOR

A Corporate Big Cheese Drops Anchor

August 15, 1996|BILL BOYARSKY and AMY WALLACE

We took a stroll Wednesday morning over to Yacht Row, the marina behind the convention hall where corporate America and its high-rolling lobbyists have parked their party boats. Big business is underwriting much of this convention, entertaining members of Congress, delegates and other guests with trinkets, booze and rich food.

Philip Morris' chartered yacht, the catamaran Mantis, was just pulling in. It looked as though we had missed a pleasant cruise. On a white tablecloth, next to a gleaming silver serving dish, we saw what looked like the makings of cocktails. We assumed there was no shortage of cigarettes. We checked out the dozen or so passengers, wearing casual clothes and convention badges. They seemed relaxed and happy as one group stepped off the Mantis and into a chauffeur-driven Lincoln Town Car.

This is the way, far from the fray, that the big companies work to win influential friends. But when it comes to public relations, life here is not just Chardonnay and salmon. Philip Morris also puts its faith in its own humbler fare: macaroni and cheese.

Kraft Foods, a subsidiary of the food-and-cigarette colossus, has given every delegate and reporter a box of a "Limited Convention Edition" macaroni and cheese dinner, featuring noodles shaped like stars and elephants. (The Democrats will get donkeys.) Kraft even sponsored an official "tasting" of the inimitable orange-colored dish near the convention hall.

"We consider macaroni and cheese an American icon," a Kraft spokeswoman told us. We didn't argue. After all, it is Ronald Reagan's favorite dish.

*

Over at the Hotel Del Coronado, we saw more evidence of the fundamental difference between Jack Kemp, the motor-mouth, and Bob Dole, the man of few words.

In Kemp's speech, he promised to address three main Republican goals. But he was so wordy that when someone passed him a note, telling him to wrap it up, Kemp had only managed to get through one.

Then Dole took the podium and the gabfest was over. He didn't waste a word describing his economic package: "If you have five children under 18, you're busy. You're also gonna get a $2,500 tax credit. Take it off your taxes. $2,500."

*

Don't Be a Big Mouth Dept.: New Yorker writer Sidney Blumenthal was at the Marriott Hotel bar Wednesday with a bunch of his journalist pals, exchanging tasteless jokes. Of Dole, Blumenthal said: "There's still time. Maybe he can expire before the nomination and save the party." An alternate Buchanan delegate from Alaska, mistaking cynicism for malice, reported to police that someone had threatened to kill the presumptive Republican nominee.

Minutes later, Secret Service agents--nine of them--arrived and escorted Blumenthal into the hallway for questions. It took 45 minutes for Blumenthal to convince them he was just kidding--so long that Christopher Hitchens of Vanity Fair took pity on his friend and brought him out a gin-and-tonic.

*

Sacramento-area Assemblywoman Barbara Alby, who may have the biggest hair in the convention hall, is mad at Gov. Pete Wilson. They've been enemies ever since she first ran against Wilson's pal, the late Assemblyman B. T. Collins, in 1991. She says that Wilson refused to make her a state delegate and wouldn't give her tickets to the hall. Desperate, Alby had to bum credentials from a friend.

"My seat's so far away, I can't walk that far," she complained. "Willie Brown would have treated me a whole lot better."

*

We spotted Joe Klein, a.k.a. Anonymous, the recently unmasked author of "Primary Colors." Newsweek columnist Klein is keeping his chin up despite his colleagues' grumbling that he violated journalistic ethics by writing a novel about the 1992 presidential campaign and then denying he did it.

He isn't the only fiction writer in town. Richard North Patterson, author of several popular courtroom thrillers, is here researching a new book that will span five days in a California presidential primary. Tentatively titled "Right to Live," the suspense novel will revolve around the politics of abortion.

We wondered how Patterson got convention credentials. He said that he owed it to one of his fans, former President Bush, who struck up a friendship with Patterson after reading his novel "Degree of Guilt." With Bush's help, Patterson has infiltrated the Dole campaign--first on the campaign plane and now here at the convention. Traveling with a big leather-bound notebook under his arm, Patterson is collecting vignettes.

"But this isn't 'Primary Colors,' " he cautioned. "This isn't a knockoff of reality. I really intend to make things up."

*

Yet more evidence of the difference between California Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren and Wilson: Lungren thinks the Republican Party platform he helped write is a good read. He proudly calls it "user friendly." Wilson, on the other hand, says that it's "about as readable as a phone book."

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