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The politics of picking a White House state dinner guest list

Everything you want to know about the White House Mexico state dinner.

President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama welcome Mexican President Felipe Calderon and his wife, Margarita Zavala, at the North Portico of the White House for Wednesday's state dinner. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

You think you have a hard time putting together a dinner-party guest list? Imagine deciding whom to invite to a state dinner.

Officials from past administrations say there are always an obvious few -- the House speaker, secretary of state, the ambassador from the country being honored -- but from there, it's a careful and political puzzle.

Some Cabinet secretaries, yes -- but which? Since Mexico was the honoree, two of Latino descent, Hilda Solis and Ken Salazar, made the cut, but also Homeland Security's Janet Napolitano, a point person on the border security debate. Yet it was Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.), chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, who won a seat at the head table. (Another guest with a claim on the issue: John Zidich, publisher of the Arizona Republic.)

Also sitting with the president and first lady: Justice Anthony Kennedy, the lone Supreme Court member at the dinner ... but that was one more justice than attended last fall's dinner, an oversight now corrected. In the meantime, the throngs of White House staffers at November's dinner was scaled way back this time to only the heaviest hitters (David Axelrod, Mona Sutphen, etc).

The coming-out party for new social secretary Julianna Smoot -- previously Obama's fundraiser -- included some of the president's most loyal and generous donors: Jane Hartley of the Observatory Group and her husband, Ralph Schlosstein of Evercore Partners, whose Park Avenue apartment has become the first residence of Democratic donors; early Obama bundler Robert Wolf of UBS Group Americas; fundraiser Alexa Wesner; and former Biden finance director Dennis Toner. Also, Andy Spahn, political adviser to big-time contributor Steven Spielberg.

As usual, showbiz and sports luminaries with links to the honored country decorated the room: Eva Longoria Parker, George Lopez, Mark Sanchez (who brought as his plus-one fellow New York Jet D'Brickashaw Ferguson). And also Mario Molina, a Mexican-born scientist who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry (specialty: hole in the ozone). José Díaz-Balart, the Telemundo superstar, as well as Giselle Fernandez, a TV anchor who was one of the early hoofers on "Dancing With the Stars," and Jorge Ramos and María Elena Salinas of Univision -- the Matt and Meredith of Latino TV.

And also, as usual, some sentimental favorites: speedskater Shani Davis, the first African American to win Winter Olympics gold. And Will Allen, a Chicago-based urban farmer who promotes healthy foods in inner cities, a cause close to the first lady's heart.

See the full White House state dinner guest list here.

By The Reliable Source  |  May 20, 2010; 1:03 AM ET
Categories:  44: Obama's Washington , White House State Dinner  
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Will Allen is NOT based in Chicago. HIs organization, Growing Power, is located in Milwaukee, WI. Check your facts.

Posted by: westcl | May 19, 2010 11:55 PM | Report abuse

Who will crash the white house? If so, how will crash and burn at the white house staff or secret service? There probably taking bets somewhere...

Posted by: rusty6 | May 20, 2010 7:51 AM | Report abuse

I would love to see Eva Langoria in a cocktail dress...RROOWWRR!

Posted by: rusty6 | May 20, 2010 7:54 AM | Report abuse

I would've love to have seen Eva Langoria in a cocktail dress...RRROOOWWWRRR!

Posted by: rusty6 | May 20, 2010 7:54 AM | Report abuse

El Presidente Soetoro and his Irresponsible Socialist Party of Deceit are subverting this Nations Sovereignty. They are Enemies of The State.

Elections of 2010 & 12 Cannot Come Soon Enough !!

Posted by: FraudObama | May 20, 2010 12:28 PM | Report abuse

FO Calderon

Posted by: Superpower | May 24, 2010 1:54 PM | Report abuse

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