With nation’s capital already at Inaugural fever pitch, Minnesotans are playing it a bit cooler

WASHINGTON — With less than a day to go before Barack Obama becomes the 44th president of the United States, the nation’s capital is already at fever pitch.

With people arriving by the busload (and Hollywood types descending by private jet) Washington, D.C., has suddenly become the city that doesn’t sleep — bars packed with revelers, streets flooded with vendors, a free concert featuring Beyonce, Bono and U2, Bruce Springsteen, and Stevie Wonder — and that was only Sunday evening.

Today and Tuesday promise even more glitz, glamour and star-studded events where Tinseltown elite will get to rub shoulders with the politically powerful at lavish private parties and galas.

Minnesotans toning down the glitz and glamour
Most Minnesotans, however, will be playing it a little more real.

“These are folks of the Land of the North Star and Paul Bunyan,” said Dennis McGrann, a D.C. lobbyist for the Minnesota law firm Lockridge Grindal Nauen. “Our participation in these events has always been on a very modest scale.”

Of course, the economy and the new rules capping contributions at $50,000 and barring lobbyists and corporations from direct donations have made some parties a bit less excessive this year and have even kept some business executives at home.

“We are really low-balling it for a couple of reasons,” said one Minnesota industry source. “First, the economy, and second, the logistics were going to be a nightmare … I have typically had a couple of execs fly [to Washington], but this year, I talked everyone out of coming.”

That isn’t to say that Minnesotans won’t be having fun in the nation’s capital.

In addition to a spattering of private gatherings, including one hosted Sunday evening by Lockridge Grindal Nauen, a lineup of receptions will likely keep even the most frugal entertained.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar
Sen. Amy Klobuchar

Today, drinks and snacks will be served to anyone who happens to wander by the offices of Sen. Amy Klobuchar where authentic Minnesotan treats will range from Austin-based Hormel’s Spam puffs to Iron Range potica to classic Tater Tot casserole.

This evening, Klobuchar and her husband will attend a dinner hosted by Obama to honor Arizona Sen. John McCain, whom Obama defeated last year for president.

Minnesota State Society greeting visitors
On Tuesday, the Minnesota State Society will be hosting an open gathering in the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee room (location courtesy of Chairman Rep. Jim Oberstar). Hot chocolate and mini-sandwiches will be served and TVs will be set up to watch the inauguration festivities.

“We are pretty much bare bones this year,” said Doug Zabransky, the State Society’s vice president for communications. “It’s simply an open room, anybody can come and we will have snacks along the way and finger food.”

Later in the evening, the DFL party ($100 a ticket) will feature DJ entertainment and gourmet cocktail sandwiches.

The bigwigs and big donors will be attending the official balls in hopes of catching a glimpse of the new president and his wife.

Members of Minnesota’s delegation are expected to be at the Midwest Ball, along with others like Minneapolis attorney Sam Kaplan, a member of Obama’s national finance committee who donated $2,000 to the Presidential Inaugural Committee.

Jeffrey Balagna, CEO of the Minnetonka-based Carlson Cos. and a $25,000 donor, is expected to attend the South Ball with his wife.

Other insiders have decided to keep things a little quieter.

Rep. Jim Oberstar
Rep. Jim Oberstar

Oberstar is planning on spending most of the next two days with his children and seven grandchildren while former Vice President Walter Mondale will be getting together with friends from his time in Washington at a private dinner Tuesday in the capital.

“There is tremendous excitement. We have a great new president and vice president here, and we are breaking a long overdue barrier in American life,” said Mondale. “As an old civil-rights advocate, it will be nice to [be at the inauguration] and enjoy it.”

Cynthia Dizikes covers Minnesota’s congressional delegation and reports on issues and developments in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at cdizikes[at]minnpost[dot]com.

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