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CONVENTION 2000 / THE DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION | PARTY
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Uninvited Scrambling for Position

August 16, 2000

No one, with the exception of closest friends and immediate family, should ever be an 'unexpected visitor'

"The New Emily Post's Etiquette"

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Into the city they came, wheeling and dealing, wheedling, whining, name-dropping, haggling, lying their way baldfaced past the flunkies and guards. Mustering all the maneuvers: The hover. The I'm-with-stupid. The call-in-the chit. The network. The "I-know-everyone-you've-known-since-kindergarten-is-calling-you-but- pleasepleaseplease" phone call. There is nothing like a political convention to bring out the "unexpected visitors."

"OK. Got here on Sunday." Call her Deep Coax. There's no mistaking that peppy, sneaky little tin-cup voice. She can't give her name for obvious reasons: She is, ahem, unexpected. Let's just say she's short, she's smart and she's sure she's right there on the guest list.

"Right away, I ran into some people who were going to the Carter reunion! It was gonna be a tough one because of Secret Service. Heh heh. Naturally, I ran into a friend at the door.

"And then inside? I ran into a guy who promised he'd get me a credential! And of course President and Mrs. Carter were there. And former Cabinet officers, and--oh! My first celebrity sighting. Stephen Stills was there. Not sure why exactly, but there he was. Then someone I'd called earlier got me into the Blue Dog Coalition party at the Santa Monica Pier."

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This is a woman who, no kidding, flew out of the Bay Area at the start of this week without a single invitation, credential or press pass. Armed only with a few friends, a cell phone, that voice and a shark-like instinct for free appetizers, she has gotten into 12 parties in three days--two of which required slipping past Secret Service agents. Moreover, she has so far landed Staples Center credentials for not one, but two nights. The other night she watched from inside a delegation sky box as President Clinton spoke. ("Typical food," she sniffed. "Cheese squares.")

She is, as they say, not alone. From brunch to late-night, schmoozers and crashers have been talking their way past buff guys with earphones and stern young aides with clipboards all over town. They are the convention Zeligs. You have no idea who they are, but they are everywhere there's action. Rapping on cell phones. Swapping VIP passes. Standing next to Terry McAuliffe and just behind Al Gore's daughters. Gettin' jiggy down on the dance floor with some middle-aged aide to a senator.

Some try, flat out, to sneak into parties with strangers. This, however, is regarded as a desperation move. Also, the odds are bad. Nonetheless one political junkie crashed a 1996 Michael Jordan party at the Chicago convention by dint of sheer whining (exhausted, the security guard finally palmed her a pair of crucial lapel pins). Ditto a Republican convention gig this year at a posh Philadelphia restaurant.

"The hostess just said, 'I don't see your name,' and I said, 'Well, we just saw John this morning and he said to come by,' and she goes, 'John who?' and I'm like, 'John McCain?' "

*

More common is super-networking--hitting up every conceivable contact. Deep Coax, for instance, has been dialing daily beginning at 8:30 a.m.

"It's important to remember that most people RSVP for two," she reminded outside a $250-a-plate Beverly Hills fund-raiser where she'd just knocked back a "nice grilled chicken salad and some fabulous creme brulee." She looked fit and cheery and appeared to be greedily eyeing my press pass with her little blue eyes. On Monday--having casually slipped into the VIP room at a Hillary Rodham Clinton event--she had seen two women swap a low-level Staples hall pass for a ticket to this very fund-raiser. It never hurts, she said, to have something to trade.

Last night, the discerning eye might have caught her at the Rhode Island delegate party on the set of the TV show "Providence." Then she flew off to watch the convention--from a sky box, of course. She was there at the night's hottest ticket, a Mardi Gras Goes Hollywood party at Paramount Studios. Then there was a political lawyers' party at the Sunset Room, a bowling party at Universal and a late night at the Garden of Eden for a Nevada senator.

It's an acquired taste, she acknowledges. Had she not been wild for the democratic process since she got elected to the student council in junior high school, she might not have turned into the sort of woman whose idea of a "famous person" is "Janet Howard--you know her don't you? Used to work for Pamela Harriman?"

Well, no. But it takes all kinds to make a nation. What is America, if not life, liberty and the pursuit of free cheese squares? Party on.

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