WASHINGTON — What's the hottest ticket in the nation's capital?
An engraved invitation to tonight's White House State Dinner, the first hosted by President Barack Obama.
He and the first lady will honor India's prime minister, Manmohan Singh — in a big way, and in their way. In a departure from the most traditional venue, the elegant, high-ceilinged State Dining Room that holds only 140, the Obamas instead will gather with a few hundred VIPs in a huge, heated tent on the South Lawn.
The guest list for the black-tie gala is a closely guarded secret, as is the menu, though produce from Michelle Obama's new vegetable garden is expected to be used and curry is suspected by some to be on the menu for the first time.
Dinners generally draw administration officials, members of Congress, the Cabinet and the diplomatic corps. Obama donors and corporate titans, Hollywood glamor, athletic greats and leading artists are bound to be thrown into the mix, possibly joined by some academics and journalists.
White House veteran Dee Dee Myers, who served as press secretary for President Bill Clinton, is certain that there's been "relentless" lobbying by lesser mortals seeking an invitation. "The lobbying is generally pretty big, but add the social cachet of the Obamas and the fact that it's the first state dinner. The first is always the most dramatic. First impressions are important. That's your A-list, that's your top game right there. By the time you get to the eighth state dinner, it'll be a lot less important."
The first state dinner a president hosts, however, is not necessarily the most memorable, said Carl S. Anthony, historian for the National First Ladies' Library in Canton, Ohio. He cited Dwight D. Eisenhower hosting Queen Elizabeth, Jimmy Carter's dinner honoring Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping and Ronald Reagan having Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.