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After 12 Years, Republicans Get Their Big Party

McDonnell's inaugural ball goes heavy on the spectacle.

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It's not so much the glamour surrounding an inaugural ball — after all, it's still wine in plastic cups at a convention center — it's sheer size that's intended to deliver the punch: big names, big promises, big cheers on the first Republican inaugural in 12 years.

Big lines at the bars, a rough count shows about 50 people waiting in one: There's Dominion's David Botkins, political shaker Ray Ashworth, marketing guy Jake Crocker. Estimate a minute per person, that's about an hour for a drink. Or risk your spot to bet on a shorter line around the corner.

Big efforts at dancing, though “Saturday Night Fever” this isn't. “We know our limitations,” Jennifer Smythe of Northern Virginia says of the partying.

Big royalty: the new Miss District of Columbia, Erica Parkhurst, in sash and crown, a McDonnell supporter whose platform is political engagement. “I'm definitely appreciative of everyone in Virginia coming out and voting,” she says.

Big bling on first lady Maureen McDonnell, her spokesmen report: a Sarah Danielle-designed strapless gown with matching shrug jacket, of peacock teal dupioni silk, a Swarovski crystal brooch at the drop of the trumpet skirt, with jewelry designed by Henri Daussi (on loan from Capri Jewelers).

Big build-up, just before the first lady's appearance alongside Virginia's 71st governor, the one people whisper just may be on his way to the White House. A video plays on big screens, with quotes from Washington, Reagan (and McDonnell), over a pounding score worthy of a Bruce Willis action film.

Big hyperbole: Speakers congratulate each other on the best campaign ever fought by the best staff in the world. Gov. Bob McDonnell lauds predecessors George Allen and Jim Gilmore as “marvelous examples of how to govern and put principles in place.” Then he teases the arrival of one of his favorite bands of the 1970s, America.

Big emotions, with daughter Jeanine McDonnell's rendition of “You're Still the One” playing for her parents' first dance. (She sang the “Star-Spangled Banner” earlier that day at the swearing-in. “I definitely got goose bumps,” says Capt. Alicia Burrows, 27, who served in the Army with Jeanine in Iraq.) “That was so sad. I mean — not sad, beautiful,” says Judi Vankevich, who went to graduate school at CBN University (now Regent) with the governor.

One moment was big because it wasn't. It was quiet and private, away from the raucousness. Just before heading for the party, McDonnell crouches down with his father, Jack, 93, who suffers from dementia. The new governor shares childhood memories with his dad, who is in a wheelchair. He asks for a smile while family members gather closely. He gets one. “There you go, dad. That's good.”

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