No, the movie stars don’t show up in throngs to the Radio & Television Correspondents’ Dinner like they do for that other big media shindig — but who needs movie stars when you’ve got Mark Sanford and Maria Belen Chapur?

Guests dancing to the Storyville Stompers Brass Band. (Amy Argetsinger / The Washington Post)

Looking tanned, relaxed and happy, the newly elected congressman and his former partner-in-scandal — now fiancée — made their Washington social debut as a couple at the gala Wednesday night, guests of CNN. Sooo, have they set a date yet?

“Aw, now, we’re off duty tonight!” Sanford protested, jovially.

Smiles all around as Belen Chapur told us that she finds Washington “wonderful.” Sooo is the glamorous Argentine moving here soon. . . ?

Sorry, Sanford said: Not gonna make news tonight. But he was smiling still.

Steny Hoyer cheers the New Orleans-style second line at the RTCA dinner. (Amy Argetsinger) Steny Hoyer cheers the New Orleans-style second line at the RTCA dinner. (Amy Argetsinger)

So, take that, White House Correspondents’ Dinner! In the survival-of-the-fittest of rival media-political banquets, the annual RTCA fete has been forced to evolve as the ever-growing WHCA dinner sucks up all the hype. No longer can RTCA guests count on an address from the commander-in-chief; President Obama, doling himself out sparingly to this town’s fancy-dress dinners, has only attended once, in 2009.

This year’s gala felt like a decided effort at counterprogramming. “We felt that we needed to interject some fun into the dinner,” said event chairman John L. Wallace III, a Fox News cameraman. They picked a New Orleans theme (with sponsorship from the city’s tourism council): Beads, masks, a Dixieland band. They splurged a little (and raised ticket prices, to $245), with the National Building Museum instead of the convention center or hotel ballroom; a Cajun-Creole menu designed by celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse and prepared by Occasions Caterers.

Maria Belen Chapur and Mark Sanford. (Amy Argetsinger) Maria Belen Chapur and Mark Sanford. (Amy Argetsinger)

And this time, no professional comedian or pols doing shtick as the after-dinner entertainment — in past years, buzzy moments for the dinner (Karl Rove dancing and rapping onstage; a stellar stand-up routine by pre-scandal Anthony Weiner). But with the constant uncertainty of whether POTUS would step in, Wallace found the logistics of booking a second-tier speaker impossible.

And besides — they’d already booked some killer New Orleans bands, who managed to get a Beltway black-tie crowd on their feet and dancing.

“Did you see [Sen.] Roger Wicker rockin’ out?” exclaimed Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), after a raucous brass band paraded through the room. “He was great!”

(This story appears in the print edition of Friday, June 7, and contains some material published in an earlier blog post.)

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