Miss America, With Poise to Spare in Wonkland Central

Miss America Lauren Nelson, center, talks with Chris Matthews Show producer Tammy Haddad
Lauren Nelson with "Chris Matthews Show" producer Tammy Haddad at the Washington Press Club gala. (Lauren Victoria Burke -- AP)
By Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts
Thursday, February 8, 2007

Okay, Chris Matthews, we take it back. Once you meet Lauren Nelson, you kind of get why she's Miss America.

After eight days of nonstop travel since being crowned in Vegas last week ("I won't go home until March"), the Oklahoman touched down in D.C. Tuesday to attend the Washington Press Club Foundation congressional dinner and managed to appear radiant and alert and genuinely interested through three hours of oxygen-depleting insider banter between Washington scribes and political types.

(Did it help or hurt that she wasn't drinking? At 20, she's the youngest Miss A. in more than a decade.)

Her host, Congressional Quarterly, sat her with a formidable group: Daryl Hannah, talking about human trafficking and an upcoming trip to Budapest and how "I should really go say hello to Teddy" (Sen. Kenned , that is); Hannah's escort, California artist John Quigley, talking about his environmental work; and a Roanoke, Va., fellow named Dave "Mudcat" Saunders butting in to ask, "Are yew one of them damn Democrats?" Quigley was. "So am I," said Saunders, a strategist for John Edwards, and he whisked Quigley and Hannah away to meet Sen. Jim Webb.

Which left Miss America at the table with a clatch of gossip and society writers. So, awkward question time: How much do you hate it that everyone confuses you with Miss USA in this, her year of scandal?

"It's saddening," Nelson said warmly. "But I look at my year as Miss America as an opportunity to discuss the issues and explain the difference between the two, and how there is no relationship between the two organizations." Guess we weren't the first to ask.


U.S. President George W. Bush wears a cowboy hat as he escorts first lady Laura Bush from a reception at Blair House
Cold night for a walk, even across the street: The Bushes head home after the Blair House reception.(Jason Reed - Reuters)
George and Laura Bush walked (walked!) across the street to Blair House last night and actually mingled with more than 100 guests at the farewell reception for Chief of Protocol Donald Ensenat and his wife, Taylor. Among the guests: Josh Bolten, Karl Rove, dozens of diplomats. Said Bush of his Yale classmate, "He made A's, I made C's. Look who's president." Then he got all serious and promised they'd always be friends. The Ensenats, New Orleans residents, are headed home in time for Mardi Gras -- no fools, they.

  • An Arkansas judge has dismissed one of two lawsuits against "Washingtonienne." Robert Steinbuch, who now lives in the state, sued Jessica Cutler, Hyperion (which published the sex blogger's steamy book), Disney and HBO. The judge threw out the local lawsuit yesterday, saying that D.C., where federal proceedings are pending, is a better place to try the case. We couldn't agree more.
  • Mstislav Rostropovich is in satisfactory condition and improving from an unspecified illness, his spokeswoman said yesterday. The 79-year-old cellist, former music director of the National Symphony Orchestra, was hospitalized last week in Paris and transferred to a Moscow hospital, where President Vladimir Putin visited him Tuesday.
  • HEY, ISN'T THAT . . . ?

  • James Cromwell munching trail mix while waiting for his flight at Reagan National Airport yesterday. The 6-7 actor ("Babe," "The Queen" and now playing Jack Bauer's evil dad in "24") was in town for Tuesday's MPAA's "Business of Show Business" symposium.
  • Tony Parker posing in a white T-shirt, jeans and Air Force 1 sneakers at the Four Seasons yesterday. The San Antonio Spurs point guard shot a Nike ad in the spa before his team took on the Wizards; no sign of fiancee Eva Longoria.

    The Washington Nationals Foundation claims developer Franklin Haney is ducking its attempts to serve him with a lawsuit that alleges he reneged on a $400,000 pledge. "He's doing all he can to avoid his day in court," said attorney Geoff Gitner. Haney -- who was bidding to buy the Nats at the time of the pledge but lost to the Lerner family -- has proven elusive to process servers and refused to sign papers sent by first-class mail, Gitner said. Haney's attorney, Larry Blust, said servers left papers at Haney's D.C. penthouse, but that the developer is a legal resident of Florida. "He's not dodging service. To my knowledge so far he hasn't been served." He said Haney "has been very reasonable in his settlement proposals" but would not elaborate.

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