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Affairs of State: The Obama Family in D.C. Society

As Barack and Michelle Obama prepare for their maiden State Dinner tonight, Washington hostesses are hoping to be on the couple's A-list.

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President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama

Photo By Pete Souza/Official White House Photo

Yes we can!

It’s a mantra tailor-made to soothe the nerves of edgy Washington hostesses as they

angle to propel their names onto the Obama White House’s social A-list. As the First Couple prepares for its maiden State Dinner tonight for India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, behind the scenes, smart socialites are keeping their powder dry. No one would ever turn down an invitation to a state dinner, a poetry reading or a music performance at the White House, not to mention next month’s reception for the Kennedy Center Honors Gala. But aspiring Washington hostesses aim for even bigger stardom. For them, the real question is: Which one will be standing at their door when the Obamas make their first house call?

“The Obamas haven’t started to go out to private events,” says Debra Lee, president and chief executive officer of BET Holdings Inc., the parent company of Black Entertainment Television.

“People are speculating where they’ll go first. They’ve gone to Valerie Jarrett’s house, but that was a family affair,” says Lee, referring to the home of the President’s closest senior White House adviser. “And the President went on his own to George Will’s for dinner,” she adds, referring to the conservative columnist who was also the first to entertain Nancy and Ronald Reagan when they came to town. “But so far, the Obamas haven’t started to go out together to private events.”

The challenge isn’t lost on Democratic insiders, who know an uphill battle when they see one. Mandy Grunwald, the Democratic political consultant who worked on Sen. Al Franken’s long-contested Minnesota election race, points to the Obamas’ summer holiday on Martha’s Vineyard. “They kept to themselves,” says Grunwald, whose family members have been regulars on the Vineyard for years. “No dinner parties given or gone to.”

For the moment, the attention of Washington society is focused on tonight’s State Dinner. But for the smart crowd of new social divas, those with tough egos, long-term goals and plenty of patience, that’s just the latest leg in the ultramarathon of luring the Obamas — a process that started almost from the moment he was elected.

Topping everyone’s dream guest list is the Social Office Troika, the three keepers of the coveted White House guest lists. White House Social Secretary Desirée Rogers and her two affable aides, Ebs Burnough and Joseph Reinstein, have been wooed, wined and dined since before the inauguration. “Desirée Rogers has been to my house lots of times,” says Obama friend Teresa Heinz, wife of Sen. John Kerry, who volunteered her Fox Chapel Farm outside of Pittsburgh in September to entertain world leaders’ spouses during the G-20 Summit.

 

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