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Sanford, fiancee arrive on D.C. social scene

By Roxanne Roberts and Amy Argetsinger
The Washington Post

WASHINGTON No, the movie stars don’t show up in throngs at the Radio and Television Correspondents’ Dinner as they do for that other big media shindig – but who needs movie stars when you’ve got Mark Sanford and Maria Belen Chapur?

Looking tanned, relaxed and happy, the newly elected congressman and his former partner-in-scandal – now fiancee – made their Washington social debut as a couple at the gala Wednesday night, guests of CNN. Sooo, have they set a date yet?

“Aw, now, we’re off duty tonight!” Sanford protested, jovially.

Smiles all around as Belen Chapur told us that she finds Washington “wonderful.” Sooo, is the glamorous Argentine moving here soon. . . ?

Sorry, Sanford said: Not gonna make news tonight. But he was smiling still.

So, take that, White House Correspondents’ Association dinner! In the survival of the fittest media-political banquet, the annual RTCA fete has been forced to evolve as the ever-growing WHCA dinner sucks up all the hype. No longer can RTCA guests count on an address from the commander in chief; President Barack Obama, doling himself out sparingly to this town’s fancy-dress dinners, has attended only once, in 2009.

This year’s gala felt like a decided effort at counterprogramming. “We felt that we needed to interject some fun into the dinner,” said event chairman John Wallace III, a Fox News cameraman. The organizers picked a New Orleans theme (with sponsorship from the city’s tourism council): beads, masks, a Dixieland band. They splurged a little (and raised ticket prices, to $245), with the National Building Museum instead of the convention center or hotel ballroom. A Cajun-Creole menu was designed by celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse and prepared by Occasions Caterers.

And this time, no professional comedian or pols doing shtick as the after-dinner entertainment – in past years, buzzy moments included Karl Rove dancing and rapping onstage and a stellar stand-up routine by pre-scandal Anthony Weiner. But with the constant uncertainty of whether POTUS would step in, Wallace found the logistics of booking a second-tier speaker impossible.

And besides, they’d already booked some killer New Orleans bands, who managed to get a Beltway black-tie crowd on their feet and dancing.

“Did you see Roger Wicker rockin’ out?” Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., exclaimed of the Republican senator from Mississippi after a raucous brass band paraded through the room. “He was great!”

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