Barbara Walters, Joe Kernen and One Republican’s Response to the Debate

After last week’s head-spinning scene where real-life democrats took campaign advice from fictional politicians (Chris Noth, you’ve got my vote), I thought I’d pretty much covered the landscape of presidential politics among the Wednesday Michael’s crowd. Nothing doing. Before I could settle in for my lunch with PR maven Leslie Stevens and cosmetics entrepreneur Patti Pao, CNBC’s Joe Kernen called me over to meet Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin who was on the air with Joe earlier today deconstructing last night’s debates (We suggest a whip and a chair for the moderator of next week’s match-up) and is scheduled to appear on Sean Hannity’s broadcast on Fox this evening.

The guys told me they were looking for “equal time,” since last week’s column was all about the democratic point of view. I’m always happy to chat with Joe whose fabulously smart 12-year-old daughter, Blake Kernen is one of my favorite young writers.  Not surprisingly, Senator Johnson told me he thought Mitt Romney won the debate hands down. “He shattered the caricature (the Obama campaign) has been pushing. It’s hard to paint that picture when (Romney) came out so strong and showed such a command of the issues. He  offered the specifics that Obama did not. Last night did nothing to stop the momentum (Romney) has been gathering.” He also called out the president for being “purposely misleading” on Libya.  While the senator admitted the president was “a little more energetic” he concluded, “He’s got nothing.”

Senator Johnson, who predicts it’s going to be a “close election,” says Vice President Joe Biden‘s “rude” performance during his debate with Representative Paul Ryan had a lingering negative effect on the president’s favorable ratings and pointed to CNN’s recent poll which showed most viewers gave last night’s segment on the economy to Romney as an indication that the republican challenger is winning on the issue voters care most about. “In both debates, Romney showed that he can work with the other side. Americans have to ask themselves, ‘Do we want four more years of gridlock and a president who doesn’t know how to lead?”

Things lightened up considerably when I joined Leslie and Patti at our table to talk about the launch of Patti’s new skincare line Restorsea, which debuted at Bergdorf Goodman on Monday. Smart, savvy and absolutely passionate about skincare, Patti has built an impressive track record in the beauty business with stints at Avon and Elizabeth Arden. The Harvard Business School graduate introduced glycolic acid to the beauty industry and made Avon’s Anew the industry standard that is today.

She has continued to search out the latest innovations for the luxury market in her own consulting firm Pao Principle which she launched in 2005. Utilizing her deep ties to China, Patti created a survey asking 353 billionaires in the country (yes, you read that right) questions relating to handbags and fine jewelry. Doing so created a much sought after database when the survey findings made The New York Times, Women’s Wear Daily, Forbes and Fortune. That stroke of marketing genius branded her LVMH’s luxury expert, and she picked up three clients in Norway which turned out to be a fateful turn of events.

While hiking with clients during a visit to the Norwegian countryside, Patti opted out of continuing their 13-mile trek to visit the largest salmon hatchery and made an amazing discovery. She was fascinated by the workers’ hands, which looked decades younger than their faces. Determined to uncover their anti-aging secret, Patti discovered an enzyme derived from baby salmon hatching fluid which kept the workers’ hands, while submerged in the water every day, incredibly youthful looking. With $300,000 from three business school pals for clinical trials and after a year of research, Patti worked with a Norwegian bio-tech company to develop and patent the enzyme and secured the rights to use it in her debut line in both her Restorsea Rejuvenating Day Cream and Revitalizing Eye Cream. (I just love the beautiful blue-green sea glass-inspired jars whose lids are embellished with the Chinese infinity fish) She showed me some before-and-after photos where women used the products for 12 weeks and the results were impressive to say the least. “It used to be if you were a great marketer you could sell anything,” Patti told me. “Today, because the market is saturated,  you have to have a great product that really works. The world doesn’t need another $300 day cream.” Amen.

Patti, who I’m predicting will be the next great cosmetic guru, credits her Chinese parents for her strong work ethic. “I was raised to be able to figure things out,” she says. “I was taught to be persistent and unafraid. I’m like a samurai. It took me 25 years to get here. I want to be the next Avon Anew. That’s my benchmark.”

Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:

1.  Linda Janklow and Barbara Walters, hosting a mini baby shower for attorney and reality show star Crystal McCrary-Anthony. Congrats!

2.  Uber-agent Wayne Kabak and my pal, investigative journo Diane Dimond

3.  CNBC’s Joe Kernen and Senator Ron Johnson

4.  Jimmy Finkelstein and Hearst’s George Green

5. Herb Siegel and Frank Gifford, who was joined by Kathie Lee Gifford for the first few minutes of their lunch. I caught up with Kathie Lee before she dashed to rehearsal for her new play “Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson” now in previews at the Neil Simon Theatre and opening on Broadway November 15. The tireless Today show host, who wrote the book and lyrics for the musical celebrating the trail blazing evangelist’s life told me it took 12 years to bring the show to the Great White Way. Hellbent on making her Broadway dreams a reality, Kathie Lee couldn’t be happier. “I’m tired of juke box musicals. This is a story of a woman who did extraordinary things and whose story is really inspirational. That’s the kind of show I want to see and am hoping other people feel the same way I do.” Between co-hosting with Hoda Kotb and keeping in tune with “Scandalous,” Kathie has nary a second to waste, so she had a drive-by tete a tete with hubby Frank today to toast their 26th wedding anniversary (it’s tomorrow). “If I didn’t do this today who knows when I’d see my husband again!” she said. All I can say is that whatever Kathie’s doing seems to agree with her. She’s never looked better.

6. The Imber Gang: Dr. Gerald Imber, Jerry Della Femina, Jeff Greenfield, Michael Kramer and Andy Bergman

7. Leslie Stevens, Patti Pao and yours truly

8. Tony Hoyt (Long time no see!) and his longtime pal, Pam Howard

9. Conde Nast’s Maurie Perl and Maria Cuomo Cole

10. New York Social Diary‘s David Patrick Columbia, who was up at the crack of dawn to cover the unveiling of the FDR Memorial at The Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island. DPC, as he is affectionately called, just stopped in for a quick bite and wound up joining Leslie, Patti and me for some great conversation and a tasty looking cheeseburger.

11. Fairchild Fashion Group’s Gina Sanders

12.  The Paley Center’s Pat Mitchell with, we hear, her hubby and a gal lucky enough to be a “mentee” of hers

14. Would have loved to have been a fly on the wall for this one: Discovery Communications honcho David Zaslav  (in jeans!) and Tom Freston; Second seating: fashionista Fern Mallis

15. PR maven Lisa Linden and the always stylish Suri Kasirer

16.  Gail Hayman

81. Mitch Rosenthal

17. Attorney Jay Kriegel

18. Piers Morgan Tonight‘s executive producer, Jonathan Wald, and Scott Singer sporting his new, gleaming wedding band. Congrats!

20. Laurie Tisch

21. The Daily Beast’s Lloyd Grove

22. Scalamandre’s  Steven Stolman with Alicia Bythewood. A little birdie told me Alicia and her husband Daniel just closed on a pied a terre on 54th Street. Guess who’s decorating?

23. Wednesday Martin with, so we’re told, the lady behind Crumb cupcakes. Yum!

24. Nick E. Rubinstein

25. Author Ed Klein

26. Tech guru Shelly Palmer

27. Harper’s Bazaar‘s Carol Smith

Please send comments and corrections to LUNCH at MEDIABISTRO dot COM.

@DianeClehane Diane Clehane is Adweek's weekly 'Lunch' columnist.