GRAND OLD PARTY Convention: The Republicans descend on San Diego for a week of business and pleasure. Yesterday they had a grand old beach party; REPUBLICAN CONVENTION; CAMPAIGN 1996


SAN DIEGO -- If Republicans ran their presidential campaign the way they throw parties, Bob Dole would be 10 points ahead in the polls by now.

In town for its national convention this week, the GOP is going all out to entertain its nearly 4,000 delegates and alternates and get them psyched for an uphill campaign this fall.

On Saturday night, people ate snow crab legs and oysters at a $500-a-plate fund-raiser at Planet Hollywood while a band played "I Got You, Babe," in honor of California congressman Sonny Bono. Down by the water, the San Diego Union-Tribune threw a party for the press and local business and community leaders that featured food from 32 of Southern California's best restaurants and a 22-minute fireworks display launched from three barges.

And yesterday, at the California GOP's beach party at Mission Bay, delegates rode jet skis as cabana boys handed out packets of sunscreen and the Maryland delegation worked feverishly to beat out the other states in a sand-castle-building competition.

"This is great," said Bunny Parish, president of the Maryland Federation of Republican Women, as she sprinkled sea water on a sand replica of Fort McHenry to keep it damp and prevent crumbling. "I'm having a blast."

Parish, a 53-year-old delegate-at-large from Calvert County, had been a little intimidated by the idea of a California beach party. "I thought there were going to be all these bathing beauties," she said, glancing around at the largely middle-age crowd in T-shirts, sun visors and sensible shoes. "I see I'm in good company."

With the advent of the primary system, conventions are no longer nail-biting events that determine the party's presidential nominee. Instead, they have become prime-time political rallies. Although delegates attend meetings and some have to work on the platform, they also devote plenty of time to sightseeing and parties. Lots of parties.

The San Diego GOP host committee estimates that there are about 1,000 events convention week, everything from a tribute to California Governor Pete Wilson at Sea World to D.C. Mayor Marion Barry's get-together at a local gallery.

While eating spicy beef at Planet Hollywood, Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado said he had received 182 invitations. "But I'm really going to get to 10 of them," he said.

Over in the corner of the restaurant's "Adventure Room," which resembles a temple from an Indiana Jones movie, 15-year-old Jill Rapp sat poised over a crab salad pastry puff.

"It's not normal Planet Hollywood food," said Rapp, who had come from Chicago to visit her cousin, a GOP volunteer. While others at the party were in expensive-looking garb, Rapp went economy with a handsome black, polyester and rayon dress she had bought from T.J. Maxx for $30.

"I didn't come here planning to go to this," she said.

In a glass exhibit case next to Rapp sat a pair of earrings worn by actress Juliette Lewis in "Natural Born Killers," the Oliver Stone shoot-'em-up. In a speech critical of Hollywood last year, Bob Dole excoriated the movie as one that reveled "in mindless violence and loveless sex."

But at Planet Hollywood Saturday night, no one seemed to notice.

Other events

Aside from fund-raisers and issue-oriented breakfasts, some of the most interesting events in San Diego this week aren't on the GOP calendar.

Tomorrow night, a San Diego cabaret called Tidbits is throwing a drag queen beauty contest and fund-raiser for an AIDS meals-on-wheels program, in which participants are expected to dress up like Marilyn Quayle, Barbara Bush and other notable Republican women.

Contestants will have to answer such trenchant questions as how they would solve world hunger and redo Elizabeth Dole's hair, said the emcee, Nicole Ramirez-Murray.

"It's going to be very fun, very outrageous and all for a good cause," Ramirez-Murray said.

While the Maryland delegation was clearly having fun yesterday on Mission Bay, they were also very serious about their sand castle.

"Don't touch that," said delegate alternate Dick Sossi to fellow alternate Louis Pope, as Pope tried to smooth the walls of Fort McHenry with his hands. "We want them square."

Sossi, chairman of the Queen Anne's County Republican Party, and the other delegates had gone so far as to obtain a copy of the fort's building plans from which to work.

"I think if you're going to do something, you should try to do it right," said WCBM conservative radio talk-show host Les Kinsolving, who picked up the plans. As Pope shaved the fort's walls with a plastic tray borrowed from the Travelodge where the delegation is staying, Kinsolving played the Star-Spangled Banner on a boom box draped with the Maryland flag.

It is axiomatic of conventions that wherever there are parties, there will be protests. And by choosing a beach party theme, the California GOP offered up a big, fat target.

The protesters

Anti-smoking advocates dressed up as cigarettes staged their own beach volleyball game against children as a way to protest Philip Morris' sponsorship of the event. A group of more than 100 members of a low-income community organization railed at the party-goers with bullhorns, criticizing the Republican Congress as heartless.

"It's all the poor people who want my money," said Joe Cetinske, a member of the California Republican Party, as he stared at the protesters standing in the water.

Of all the parties so far, the San Diego Union-Tribune bash seems to have set the standard. Orchestrated by celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck, it was a smorgasbord of Southern California cuisine, including specialties from his own Spago. Former Stray Cats lead singer Brian Setzer and his Orchestra provided the music.

The invitation-only party, which one chef estimated must have cost well over $1 million, drew several thousand to San Diego's waterfront, but not Puck's wife, who stayed home.

"My wife is a Democrat," Puck said. "She refused to come."

Pub Date: 8/12/96

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