- The Washington Times - Monday, April 28, 2008

President Bush, attending his eighth and final White House Correspondents Association Dinner, took note of the election to replace him in the guest of honor’s seat and mocked the candidates’ failure to be there to send him off.

“Sen. McCain is not here tonight because I suspect he wants to distance himself from me a little bit,” Mr. Bush said, setting up the zinger for Sen. Hillary Clinton, whom he said did not appear “due to sniper fire.”

“Sen. Obama couldn’t make it because he was at church,” Mr. Bush said, making light of Sen. Barack Obama’s pastoral problems with his minister, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.

Washington political correspondents were tense about how the mood would change from the woefully embarrassing scene caused by the guest speaker in 2006, comedian Stephen Colbert, whose satire about Mr. Bush made the audience uncomfortable. This year, Craig Ferguson, host of CBS’ “The Late Night Show,” suggested that Mr. Bush, who has been criticized for being away from the White House for extended periods, might want to consider looking “for a job with more vacation time.”

Mr. Bush, however, shot out of the gate, making it clear that both he and Vice President Dick Cheney were ready for the barbs, and weren’t afraid to fling a few boomerangs back.

“Craig Ferguson is our guest tonight. You know Craig was once in a band called ‘Bastards from Hell’ and that’s funny cause that’s what Dick and I were going to call our band,” Mr. Bush quipped.

On a night when Washington editors and reporters and congressional and administration officials were hoping to score pictures with some of Hollywood’s biggest stars, what they got was the B-list, the C-list, and in some cases “stars” they had never seen or heard of before.

When the Jonas brothers entered the red carpet area a group of about 30 teenagers screamed their names to the utter surprise of the mostly over-30 crowd, many of whom asked, “Does anyone know who those kids are?”

One of the biggest draws of the night: former Playboy Playmate and international sex symbol Pamela Anderson, who hasn’t produced a movie or television show of note in years.

One whose career is still on the rise, Rosario Dawson (who most recently stared in Quentin Tarantino’s “Grind House: Death Proof”), was perhaps the most low-profile Hollywood personality there, although her seat on the second level was so far away from the action that many scarcely noticed she was in the room.

Other celeb pickings were slim.

Ashlee Simpson, who recently announced her pregnancy, was seen only briefly on the red carpet and hardly at all afterwards.

Actor Ron Silver made his annual appearance, and everyone loved seeing him, but there were other curious types in what Mr. Bush called as an “interesting crowd.”

Exercise queen Denise Austin, for example, was spotted doing push-ups for the photographers in a tight red dress — right in the path of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Perez Hilton, the Hollywood blogger, was there for seemingly no reason since neither socialite Paris Hilton nor the rest of her gossip fodder pals and hangers-on were there — perhaps the fact that the event was at the decidedly unglamorous Washington Hilton was reason enough.

Odder still was the appearance of Dennis Hof.

The owner of Nevada’s Moonlight Bunny Ranch who has become famous for his HBO produced “Cat House” show was spotted among the thousand or more guests watching costumed chorus girls and quaffing Veuve Clicquot at Bloomberg News’ much-hyped after party at the Embassy of Costa Rica.

“Even I don’t really know,” Mr. Hof said when asked why he was invited.

Jaime “Marlo Stanfield” Hector and Isiah “Sen. Clay Davis” Whitlock Jr., both stars of “The Wire,” HBO’s hit television crime drama based in Baltimore, were a big hit at Bloomberg’s bash as well and a welcome relief from the Hollywood randomness of the evening.

Former Rep. Bob Barr and Richmond Mayor L. Douglas Wilder, former Sen. George Allen, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Rep. Marsha Blackburn attended the dinner as the guests of The Washington Times’ new Executive Editor John Solomon and President Thomas P. McDevitt.

Mr. Allen commented that he knew exactly where the action was all night.

“I have all of the Redskins picks in the NFL draft coming to me on my Blackberry, and it looks like they traded their first round pick. I’ll be busy all night,” Mr. Allen said.

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