Whooping it up in `N'Awlins'

MARIO DeCELL stood alone before the Louisiana Superdome, battling to keep his placard upright against the sultry winds that blew across the plaza. ``Where was George?'' the sign read, echoing Sen. Edward Kennedy's oft-quoted refrain at the Democrats' convention last month. ``Back home, Ted, sober with his wife.''

This is the week Republicans get even for all the things Democrats said about them in Atlanta. To that end, they have rented out the most cavernous hall - the Superdome - in the history of political conventions and invited 15,000 members of the press to witness their rhetorical flagellation of the Democratic Party. To hold the attention of the television-viewing public during the four-day celebration of the Reagan era, they have contrived to inject a bit of suspense into what might otherwise be a truly soporific spectacle.

George Bush, the Republicans' inevitable presidential nominee, will wait until the final day of the convention to announce his choice for a running mate. For the legions of political junkies here, Mr. Bush's tactic has given happy rise to days of frantic rumor and speculation.

``At least it gives me something to do,'' says one CBS producer charged with getting a jump on the identity of Bush's No. 2. Since her arrival in town last week, she has spent days and nights wielding a large expense account to pry tips from recalcitrant campaign aides. The problem is that those who talk usually don't know, and those who know usually don't talk.

``If they only knew how little I really know,'' marvels one heavily wined and dined GOP official, ``I wouldn't get taken to so many nice restaurants.''

All of this has little to do with the thousands of delegates who have descended en masse on this city. Their official purpose is to ratify the party ticket. Unofficially, they're here to have fun in ``N'Awlins.'' And the media has delightedly taken notice of the incongruity of the strait-laced Republican Party - the party that bills itself as the party of prosperity and traditional family values - holding its convention in an economically depressed city that fairly revels in its own peculiar brand of Mediterranean debauchery.

In the city's old French Quarter Friday night, a local TV camera crew seized on a delegate supporting the aborted candidacy of Pat Robertson. Did this neighborhood, this city, the reporter wanted to know, reflect the values of the Republican Party?

Overhead, a sign heralded ``Papa Joe's female impersonators.'' A few feet away, a Dixie ensemble blared, ``When the saints go marchin' in.'' Down the length of Bourbon Street were jammed establishments peddling food, music, and sleaze. The delegate thought for a moment, then grinned. ``This reflects the values of America,'' he said. ``Whether the Republican Party reflects the values of America is another question.''

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