Prelude to a Butt Whippin'

The GOP eyes a George W. Bush victory in traditionally Democratic Palm Beach County. Here's why.

Walking frantically now, he ducks into a hipster clothing store and corners two women near the dressing rooms. "Very professional," the first girl says of the mustard-colored flier he's handed her.

"Yeah, we've got to make politics hipper."

Back in the club, the crowd has expanded to maybe 20 now, but many are still grumbling about the lack of a TV. Aves tries to organize running a cable line from the bar next door and again avoids Frankel, who's now sipping a cocktail at the bar. "What I really need right now more than anything," Aves says to nobody in particular, "is a damn drink."

That night, Aves' party joined a long list of local Democratic soirees that went sour. In the Loehndorf reign, the party has held few get-togethers, and most of them that have been put together have been disorganized and poorly planned, her critics say. "When the Democrats get together nowadays, it's chaos," says Lazar, the ex-CIA officer. "They're usually very odd meetings where nothing gets done."

Democratic clubs in south county, consisting mainly of retired, Jewish New Yorkers, still draw consistent crowds. They operate independently of the county party now, with little communication between the clubs and headquarters.

For instance, the March meeting of the South County United Democratic Club in Delray Beach drew a crowd of 220 to hear judicial candidates speak. The meeting dragged on for about two hours until volunteers carted in boxes of ice cream bars, essentially ending the meeting as the crowd hurried for the free treats. Anne Kamin, a 77-year-old Delray resident, debated whether Jews would leave the party as she chomped on a chocolate-covered vanilla popsicle. "The only ones who vote Republican are the ones with money, like my son the stockbroker," Kamin said. "But who knows? Maybe it's all going to change."

In comparison to the Democrats' lack of organization, the Republican Party of Palm Beach County has amassed a huge network of meetings and clubs. In Palm Beach County alone, 20 clubs meet regularly, including four women's clubs, three clubs for minorities, and two for children. Says Dinerstein: "I'm not kidding. There's an event every day that I could go to. I've got to pick and choose."

Back at the election-night party for Democrats, Aves is sipping his Heineken alone at the bar when he's cornered by Loehndorf and political activist Lisa Ramsey, who are not too happy about the flop of a party.

Ramsey, a dedicated party idealist who has worked successfully with Loehndorf and her predecessors, speaks first: "Where's the TV?"

"Don't ask," Aves responds curtly.

"Well, what about a computer? We were supposed to have a computer so we could look at results," Loehndorf chimes in.

"Oh, I couldn't get my computer up here," he says. "It would have been a huge hassle."

Ramsey asks about a phone. At least they could have a phone line going to check in with the elections office.

"Oh, that was me," Loehndorf admits. "I was supposed to bring it. I just totally forgot. I don't know what's wrong with me today."

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