Young Republicans range from the body-pierced to the pinstriped

There they are, with their blue pinstriped suits, red ties, and conservative black cocktail dresses. They dutifully display their American-flag lapel pins as they sip their drinks. It's a casual atmosphere, with murmurs of conversation at scattered tables and a splash of laughter here and there.

Meet the Young Republicans, mingling at their convention party at a Midtown bar called Tuscan Square. It's slick, a multilevel faux piazza one guidebook calls a suburban mall that died and went to heaven, catering to the shoppers and tourists that flock to nearby Rockefeller Center.

Look closer, though. The future of the GOP may not be what it seems.

Take Jim Miller, a burly red-haired Irish Catholic from New Jersey who growls like a drowsy Nick Nolte on a bad morning. He has his own pinstriped suit and elephant-speckled tie, as well as a pin proclaiming: "Ten Out of Ten Terrorists Agree, Anybody But Bush." So how did he end up with a pierced tongue? "I have always believed that individuals know better than anybody else what is best for themselves," he says. "I am part of that wing of the party that is definitely personal-freedom based."

An information-systems manager by day and, apparently, a political firebrand by night, Miller founded his county's chapter of the Young Republicans. "This is something I do out of a need, out of desire to make the world a better place." For him, this means keeping the federal government out of his paycheck every other Friday.

Now ambling over is Robyn Pladson, a North Dakota delegate and, as it turns out, a former president of the College Democrats at her state university back home. She's one of the few not wearing black, sporting instead a yellow number with a higher hemline. "I actually know the exact moment I became a Republican," she says. Trying to get an apartment soon after graduation, she was rejected, told she made too much money. The apartment she wanted, it turned out, was HUD-subsidized and reserved for low-income residents.

Boy, that made her mad.

But she loves New York. "It's a fabulous city, it's the whole world on one small island.... It's amazing!" But nothing like back home. "It's the aggressiveness. Where I come from in North Dakota, you don't need to be aggressive with anything."

All of the sudden, Miller bounds up the stairs. "Hey, Giuliani is speaking! Giuliani is speaking!" Most head downstairs, where there are TVs. They watch in a state of relative calm.

About two dozen young men and women watch the former New York mayor praise President Bush and lampoon John Kerry. It's quiet, mostly, but they cheer and whoop along with the convention crowd at applause lines.

Outside Tuscan Square sits Jen Hein, an interloper from the alternative Republican Youth Majority, a group of pro-choice, pro-environment, but fiscally conservative young Republicans. "Tonight the moderates are speaking and so that's what I found most inviting, because the Young Republicans have said, OK, we're going to have an event, let's all listen to this, and there's a lot of discussion going on."

It's well before midnight, and most of the group begins to leave. Tristan Pinnock, though, pauses on his way out. He's a goateed college kid from, he says, "the People's Republic of Massachusetts."

"Ah, wow, being here in New York is such a welcome relief," he says with a touch of wonder. "I feel at home. I'm not fighting tooth and nail all the time."

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