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Inside the Beltway: Romney’s graduates

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Is it still considered bad form to talk politics during a social gathering?

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Forget shabby politics, an evolving White House and the "Celebrity-in-Chief" for a moment: It's God, country and education at Liberty University on Saturday morning, when 14,012 students receive degrees from a school administration unapologetic about its religion-based curriculum. Mitt Romney delivers the commencement address to a campaign-size audience; officials estimate that 34,000 will attend the event in Arthur L. Williams Stadium at the campus in Lynchburg, Va.

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee has impressive political company. Then-presidential hopeful Ronald Reagan addressed Liberty graduates in 1980, then-President George H.W. Bush was there a decade later. A baccalaureate service, incidentally, will precede the graduation Friday evening, featuring evangelist Luis Palau. The service is no optional afterthought.

"One of the privileges of attending Liberty University is that this service, honoring Jesus Christ, has not fallen prey to political correctness and is still one of the official commencement ceremonies," says chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr., whose father Jerry Falwell founded the university in 1971.

BIG HOUSE, RIVER VIEW

Based on the median price per square foot of a residence in its neighborhood, the Movoto Real Estate Watch finds that if the White House were put on the open market in the nation's capital, the 55,000-square-foot-mansion would fetch up to $115 million.

Ah, but it's a volatile field. Based on sales data from other markets, the group found that the White House is worth more — or less — elsewhere. The historic property would go for a $387 million in New York City, $147 million in San Francisco, $79 million in Los Angeles, $44 million in Chicago, $39 million in Miami and $20 million in Houston.

"Why should Washington, D.C. have all the fun?" demands Movoto writer David Cross.

PORTMAN WATCH

The press has taken to billing Sen. Rob Portman as the "insider's" pick in the Republican vice-presidential derby, a notion confirmed Thursday in a bipartisan National Journal's Congressional Insiders Poll that placed the Ohio Republican ahead of four other potential running mates, including Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.

"Portman conveys seriousness of purpose. The rest are political supernovas who will fade away fast," one Democratic respondent told the news organization, while a Republican volunteered, "He could turn the VP position from a cipher into a CEO for government."

Journalists are going through their standard drill: Is Mr. Portman — the "common-sense conservative" who worked in both Bush administrations and served a decade in the House before being elected to the Senate in 2010 — getting feisty? Is he attacking the White House? Is he acting vice-presidential? The lawmaker has attracted other attention, meanwhile.

"The U.S. senator from Ohio would be the leading candidate to be Mitt Romney's vice-presidential choice, if he wasn't widely viewed as a stiff. Actually, according to a Portman ally, he's kind of a [expletive for a tough guy]," notes Andrew Kaczynski, a BuzzFeed political reporter who listed 15 "genuinely interesting things" about Mr. Portman.

Among the revelations: He kayaked the entire 1,900 mile length of the Rio Grande. He's a lifetime hunter and fisherman who bagged a turkey last month. He learned Spanish from Mexican cowboys while working on a Texas-Mexico border ranch. He has a titanium collarbone from a mountain biking accident. He gave his wife a chicken coop and four live chickens for Christmas present.

BUMPER PATROL

"Fight global warming. Turn on the A/C."

- Bumper sticker spotted in Enid, Okla.

WEEKEND READING

Considering that the White House would bring many millions should it be sold on the open market, a compendium of historic homes currently for sale all across the nation can be found at www.preservationdirectory.com. The lowest price? Try $1 for the 3,430-square-foot "Thomas Benton Jacobs House" built in 1864 in Jeffersonville, Ind.

At the site, check the left column for "historic real estate."

THE VET VOTERS

The American electorate has separated into scores of distinct demographics defined by ethnicity, faith, income, region and esoterica. Yes. Who's got the pet owner and vegetarian vote, anyway? Political strategists pore over the possibilities with scientific fervor, pining to attract a few to their candidates.

CNN addresses three of the "most contested" voter categories — military veterans, blacks and Hispanics. "Voters in America," a new documentary series, premieres at 8 p.m. ET Sunday with "Vets Wanted," an episode devoted to vets and narrated by former Army infantryman JR Martin. The challenges of repeat deployments, civilian life and the efficacy of the Veterans Jobs Bill are on the table here; the program will be rebroadcast May 19.

POLL DU JOUR

• 87 percent of Americans plan to celebrate Mother's Day on Sunday.

• $18.6 billion: the total Americans will spend on celebrations and gifts.

• $153: amount the average person will spend, up $11 over last year.

• 66 percent will buy a gift for their mother or stepmother, 22 percent for their wife.

• 11 percent will buy a gift for their daughter, 10 percent for "another relative," 8 percent for their grandmother, 8 percent for a sister, 7 percent for a friend.

• 83 percent will buy a greeting card, spending $700 million; 66 percent will buy flowers, spending $2.2 billion.

• 54 percent will treat mom to brunch or dinner, spending $3.4 billion; 33 percent will buy mom clothing or jewelry, spending $1.6 billion.

• 21 percent will buy her a book or CD, spending $500 million; 13 percent will her buy her an electronic item, spending $1.6 billion.

Source: National Retail Federation survey of 8,724 U.S. adults conducted April 4 to 10 and released Tuesday.

Happy Mother's Day to Beltway readers. Tipline always open at jharper@washingtontimes.com

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