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Tammy Haddad Rewrites Washington's Rules

The TV producer turned hostess is reaching across aisles for her guest lists and liveblogging along the way.

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As for her own work, she says, “I will be reporting for someone for 2012, reporting or hosting a radio show. This election is going to offer lots of real hybrid reporting opportunities.”

For Washington regulars, Haddad’s formula for success may offer a glimmer of hope for those nostalgic for the heydays of social Washington, when Graham, Evangeline Bruce or Pamela Harriman used their money and glamour to attract the best and brightest from across the political spectrum for parties that mixed fine food and wine with plenty of political dealmaking and gossip.

Many have bemoaned the current state of social affairs in the nation’s capital. In August, George W. Bush’s former White house social secretary Lea Berman, wife of top Republican fund-raiser Wayne Berman, recalled the halcyon days of the last century. Back then, Berman lamented in an opinion piece in The Washington Post, all anyone had to do to have a party in Washington was to follow Harry Truman hostess Perle Meste’s advice and hang a “lamb chop in the window.” Only Berman accidentally called it a pork chop, and also neglected to mention her own hostessing forays.

“I’d like to see what Perle would have to hang in her window now to get a government official to one of her storied dinners — a minor rock star? A major PAC check?” she wrote, never letting on that in June, she hosted a private, unreported luncheon for Jeremy Bernard, President Obama’s third White House social secretary and the first man to claim the title. Luncheon guests included Vice Presidential aide Cathy Russell; Buffy Cafritz; Gail Huff, wife of Massachusetts Republican Sen. Scott Brown, and Amy Rule, married to Obama’s former Congressional enforcer, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

And while social observers fret that the halcyon days of Washington society may never return, they are grateful to anyone who tries to break the city’s Big Chill and see Haddad as the town’s best bet.

“She’s not going to be Evangeline Bruce, that’s for sure,’’ says Robert Higdon, executive director of the Prince of Wales Foundation. “Tammy is a new media social connector, like Swifty Lazar. He started Hollywood’s Oscar party before Vanity Fair took it over, just like Tammy gives the brunch before the White House Correspondents dinner. She knows how to bring people together.”

“Tammy is breaking new ground as a modern-day socialite by not adhering to any of the old rules,” says comedian Ali Wentworth, wife of “Good Morning America” host George Stephanopoulos and the daughter of the Reagan White House social secretary Mabel “Muffie” Brandon, who made headlines in the recessionary Eighties by lamenting a White House tablecloth crisis.

“She doesn’t wear sequin gowns, or clap her hands to have all the plates cleared away at the same time. She’s a facilitator bringing people together, but you won’t see her writing any books on how to entertain,” says Wentworth. “In this day and age, particularly in Washington, she could be the new social paradigm.”

Among the hottest party guests for the upcoming fall season, Haddad lists Obama friends Valerie Jarrett and her cousin Ann Jordan, Bill and Bernie Daley and lesser-known Obama pollster Joel Benensen. On the Republican side, her top picks are House Speaker John Boehner and Congressmen Eric Cantor, and Kevin McCarthy as “very sophisticated warriors on the front line of politics.” In the Senate, she lists two interesting freshmen Republicans — Marco Rubio of Florida and Brown. “He and his wife [Huff] have charmed the town,” she says.

Weighing the presidential chances of Texas Congressman Ron Paul after his second-place finish in the Iowa straw poll, she says, “It remains to be seen if a movement can win by saying ‘no’ to everything.”

Turning to Palin’s ever-shrinking presidential window of opportunity, Haddad wonders if midsummer comments slamming Palin made by Ed Rollins, Rep. Michele Bachmann’s campaign director, could ever be enough to push the former Republican vice presidential candidate into the race. “There’s not a lot of room for a new play for the Tea Party voters,” says Haddad. “Still, people were a little startled when Rollins went after Palin. Up until that point, Palin had been one of Bachmann’s biggest supporters. And people underestimate the fact that she does have something to say.”

As for reports that Fox News president Roger Ailes called Palin “an idiot,” Haddad says, “He’s denied he said that.” She cites Ailes as “one of the best bosses I ever had. And he wrote one of best books about the media. He believes in full engagement with a purpose.”

Back in the prime of Larry King’s late night call-in show, Haddad also had her favorite guests — Republican Newt Gingrich and Democrat Al Gore.

“I could always call them at the last minute even in early days,” she says. “They were always willing to come and fill in. Newt was the first person to talk at night to an empty chamber in Congress because he knew people were listening....Some of the criticism of Newt on his last go round [running for president] is that he’s still living in that C-Span scene talking into the empty room. That format made him famous. But when he rolled it out on CBS, it did not go as he expected. That’s because today, no one person is driving the agenda anymore.’’

The same can be said of the capital’s social scene today. And while Haddad’s entertaining style may lack the grandeur and reserve of her predecessors, the end goals remain exactly the same.

“We exploit the timeless tradition of bringing people together to talk issues in a casual setting,” she says. “For better or for worse, that is how relationships are built.”

 

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