The Nation’s governors attended their annual State Dinner last night in the East Room of The White House hosted by President and Mrs. Bush. It’s a tradition that began with Teddy Roosevelt 100 years ago. The governors dined on Hudson River duck rather than the Maine lobster and Colorado lamb served last year. But that wasn’t the only difference I noticed throughout the evening.
The mood of this year’s dinner was more subdued than those that I have attended in the past. Maybe some were exhausted from the campaign trail despite entertainers country music stars Vince Gill and wife Amy Grant’s after-dinner performance. Grant was instrumental in crossing over to put contemporary Christian music in the mainstream and singer-songwriter Gill, a member of the Grand Ole Opry and Country Music Hall of Fame, joked that he was “the house band” for the Bush family for awhile. Clearly the First Couples’ enthusiasm showed they are fans, and it was their preference over last year’s entertainment, Irish tenor Ronan Tynan, the singing voice of the New York Yankees.
It’s likely that among this group, there are the two vice presidential candidates, and thus Dick Cheney’s successor. Not to leave out another former governor, Mike Huckabee, who is still in the race as well.
When I asked Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, the Vice Chair of the National Governors Association, about the rumors that he could be on the Democratic ticket, he quipped with a smile: “The Naval Observatory [the Vice President’s residence] is good public housing.” At this same dinner just one year ago, the former Democratic Party Chairman Rendell, when asked who he thought might be the Democratic candidate for the White House, told me: “Keep your eye on Gov. [Bill] Richardson.”
This year the bearded Richardson, who was instrumental in turning out his home state, New Mexico, for Sen. Hillary Clinton in the recent primary, didn’t look “presidential” or “vice presidential” last evening at all. Still, his political and foreign policy experience make him a possible contender on a Clinton ticket.
The respected Southern governor Tim Kaine of Virginia, who is limited to a single, four-year term, told me at this dinner last year: “If Obama wins, I’ll still be governor for another year and I promise –hear that –‘promise’ to stay in the governor’s office ‘til the last day.’” He endorsed Sen. Barack Obama, whom he called “a transformational figure,” early in the presidential primary, and talked about his close personal relationship with the now leading contender. Kaine is likely on the short list for VP if Obama is the party’s candidate.
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who escorted his mother-in-law Eunice Kennedy Shriver, explained that his wife, Maria, was home “with the children” and TiVo’ing the Academy Awards, no doubt. After all, it’s his constituents who were being honored.
Yes, the dinner again was held on Oscar night. But the only mention of that event was by Governor Tim Kaine and who was taking his own poll and asking, “Who’s gonna win best picture?” That was probably a more politically correct conversation than a discussion about his future.
The State Dinner was over in time for guests to get back to their hotel rooms and tune in for the Best Picture Oscar. President Bush, who has hosted this event for eight years, quipped: “And next year I’ll be watching [the dinner] on C-Span”… or perhaps he’ll switch to The Academy Awards. Who knows…retirement may lead President Bush to finally join in with the rest of America’s interests on this night and leave dining with the governors to his successor.
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