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White House staying mum on state dinner

It's the hottest ticket in town. Just don't ask the White House who got them.
/ Source: The Associated Press

It's the hottest ticket in town. Just don't ask the White House who got them.

The White House is saying very little about next week's state dinner with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the first for President Barack Obama. Folks aren't talking about the menu, the guest list or even where it's being held. (Hint: That tent going up on the White House South Lawn is a clue.)

But the silence from the White House is only fueling the speculation about who's in — and who's out.

Will talk show maven Oprah Winfrey mingle with as many as 400 guests who huddle under the big top? What members of Congress got the tickets — and which did not? Will the dinner be filled with guests from Hollywood and Bollywood? And how much spice will be added to the curry?

For sure, the dinner is shaping up to be Washington's equivalent of the Oscars. Lobbyists, celebrities and movers-and-shakers all have been calling the East Wing to make sure their high-stlye invites weren't lost. A polite reply lets them know the postal service didn't err.

No details yet
Obama's big event has been scripted for weeks but first lady Michelle Obama's office isn't dishing details yet. Protocol dictates a strict list of those who must be invited — ambassadors, ministers, dignitaries. Etiquette dictates others, such as prominent Indian-Americans. And — lest we forget this is Washington — politics will play a big part in who gets the rest.

Some of the confirmed guests are predictable. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton — but not former President Bill Clinton — will be there, as will Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Energy Secretary Stephen Chu.

Although the White House is tightlipped, aides to lawmakers and officials confirm they were among the lucky few who will arrive at the star-studded night.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also snagged an invite. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican of Indian descent, will be there. He was invited when President George W. Bush hosted India for a state dinner in 2005 as well. The House Republican leader, Rep. John Boehner, won't be there just two days before Thanksgiving; he'll be home in Ohio. His deputy, Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, didn't rate an invite, although he was invited to the elaborate welcoming ceremony that afternoon.

Latest imprint on social scene
To say the dinner is just another meal would be a dramatic understatement. Tuesday night's fete is shaping up to be the latest imprint Mrs. Obama will leave on Washington's social scene. There was a conga line when the Obamas hosted the nation's governors in February. Stevie Wonder played a concert in the East Room. Marc Anthony took to the South Lawn for an evening of Latin music and Foo Fighters played the Fourth of July party there.

White House aides know they have a chance to make a splash, bringing in a guest chef and reaching out to the entertainment circles for the night's diversion. Even the invite list telegraphs something.

Does it include Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor, Obama's first nominee to the court and a celebrity in her own right? What about cookbook author and "Top Chef" host Padma Lakshmi? Will local students get seats, as has been the case in other stylish events hosted by Mrs. Obama?

And what about political thank yous? How many Obama fundraisers will make the cut? That's not clear.

But Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, who's also chairman of the Democratic National Committee, didn't snag an invite, so he won't be sampling the naan or curry.