October 06, 1975 12:00 PM

The Republicans finally won something last week. The victory took place in an improbable setting among an implausible group gathered together for obscure reasons. What’s more, when it was over, the big hero turned out to be a man known as Pickles.

The place was the 50,000-seat stadium of the University of Maryland, most of which was yawningly empty. There two governors, 11 senators and 26 congressmen, including Colorado’s Patricia Schroeder and New York’s Bella Abzug, gathered for two days of running, tennis, volleyball, basketball, golf, bicycling and other strenuous activities. The object—according to some fast-talking TV promoters who staged the unlikely competition—was to select a “King of Capitol Hill.” (Some $5,000 was also raised for emotionally disturbed children.)

The King, as it turned out, was Rep. H. John Heinz III of Pennsylvania, 36-year-old heir to a family food empire, Yale graduate, Republican and nationally rated class B skier. “Pickles feels he’s got to win,” said Rep. John Burton (D-Calif.). Heinz agreed. “If you’re in Congress, you’ve got to be competitive.”

Heinz scored heavily in swimming and tennis. He was so intense that he demanded a rerun of a foot race and questioned the judges in tennis. “The strange thing,” he says, “is that I never even made the junior varsity at college.” To add to Republican joys, Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.), an ex-pro quarterback, pulled them to a win in the big team event, the tug-of-war.

The Democrats did give each event the old electoral college try. “Go out there and beat them,” exhorted team captain Sen. Alan Cranston of California. “Remember, they are Republicans and this is no time to get along.” A former Stanford track star, the 61-year-old Cranston set an example by winning the half-mile bike race. He had practiced seven weeks for the event.

Responding to his pep talk, redoubtable Congresswoman Bella Abzug (D-N.Y.), an avid swimmer, didn’t go near the pool. “I thought I could do pretty well,” she said, “but they wouldn’t promise not to take my picture in a bathing suit.” She opted instead for volleyball and, unable to fit into a man’s medium-sized sweatsuit, went forth to battle in a pair of flowered culottes, a T-shirt and a brown velour cap. Her appearance nearly rendered her opponents inert.

During the proceedings, injuries took their toll of the Democrats. (The only injured Republican was Gov. Kit Bond of Missouri, who strained a muscle.) Rep. Jim Lloyd of California got a shiner in basketball. Charley horses struck Cranston, Sens. Bennett Johnston of Louisiana and Joe Biden of Delaware. And Sen. Lawton “Walkin’ Lawton” Chiles, who tramped across Florida to win his seat, was wiped out early when he fell off his bike while trying to pass fellow Floridian Rep. Louis Frey (R). “If I’d really benched him,” confided Frey to a teammate, “I could have run for the Senate.”

The defeated Democrats salved their wounded pride with sociology. “They beat us mostly at golf, tennis and swimming,” lamented Cranston. “Those are all country club sports. No wonder we didn’t win them.”

Rep. Andy Young (D-Ga.) offered a more partisan explanation for the outcome. “The Republicans won,” he observed, “because they have the luxury of being the minority party and don’t have the responsibility for running the country. They can stay in the gym all day.”

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