By Roger Simon
Thursday, August 3
PHILADELPHIAThe party for John McCain was at a very chic Asian restaurant with a massive 10-foot-high seated Buddha dominating one wall.
Waiters and waitresses dressed in black circulated constantly offering delicacies on silver platters.
It was all very, very civilized.
About 500 people were invited and most of them showed up, though they did not seem to include any of the big shots in the Republican Party.
I saw Ed Rendell, former mayor of Philadelphia and the current general chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
I saw Gary Bauer, who ran for president this year and then endorsed John McCain.
I saw Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, one of two senators to endorse McCain (Fred Thompson of Tennessee was the other one).
And that was it. I could have missed a few, but I doubt it.
The party was noticeably different from the party held a few hours before for James P. Hoffa, president of the Teamsters Union. That party was hosted by Jim Nicholson, chairman of the Republican National Committee and was crowded with big shots like Henry Hyde, Newt Gingrich, Orrin Hatch, Bob Barr, Arlen Specter, Ted Stevens, and Rick Santorum.
"I didn't know I had so many Republican friends," joked Hoffa .
John McCain did, however, know he had so few.
That's because McCain not only ran against the party's anointed candidateGeorge W. Bushbut he also backs an issue not popular among political big shots: campaign finance reform.
So even though McCain is being very loyal these days and publicly backing Bush, he is still looked upon as the skunk at the lawn party.
And the big shots (and even medium shots) want to have nothing to do with him.
In fact, they didn't even want him to throw a party at all.
"When is the last time a losing candidate threw a party?" one grumped to me.
I can't really remember, but the fact is that John McCain plays by his own rules. And he felt like throwing a party.
So who showed up? Reporters, of course.
And McCain and his wife and his staff spent their time schmoozing with them.
McCain will say nothing but good things about Bush, even though the two have not forgiven each other for their bitter primary fight.
You ask McCain if he will rule out running for president again in 2004, and he will tell you, "I will be campaigning for George W. Bush's re-election in 2004."
His staff is not so sure. Some of them, I get the impression, would not be heartbroken if Bush lost this time around.
And they don't seem to think he is quite the political genius that others do.
"When Bush selected Cheney as his running mate, he gave Al Gore his best day of the campaign," one said. "The Bush people were simply unprepared for the Gore attack. We were easy for Bush to beat. Gore is major warfare, and I don't think he is going to get any easier."
Not that the staffer was hopeful of a Gore victory.
"Look who he's got speaking at his convention," the staffer said. "Jesse Jackson and Hillary Clinton. Two of the most controversial people in America. George Bush had the muscle to keep Pat Robertson away from his convention, but Gore didn't have the muscle to keep Jesse away from his. So who knows if he can win this thing?"
Click here for an archive of Reporters' Notebooks from the GOP convention.