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Gridiron Grumble

Republicans took a big hit on Saturday, when a Democrat won the seat that had once belonged to former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), in a special election. And as if there wasn’t enough for GOPers to grumble about, now some are grousing that Karen Hanretty, the new communications guru for the National Republican Congressional Committee, was out mixing and mingling with Washington’s glitterati at the annual Gridiron dinner on Saturday, while her staff was back at NRCC headquarters working the phones.

Hanretty, who had started the job only days before, apparently wasn’t getting off on the best foot with her new staff. Already-dispirited Republicans around town are irked that she chose high-profile socializing over the grind of working an election night, GOP types say.

[IMGCAP(1)]The Gridiron dinner is the A-list event in which White House, Congressional and media types, all dressed in white tie and evening dresses, meet for an evening of spoofy skits and flesh-pressing. This year, President Bush himself entertained the crowd with a song.

Meanwhile, back at the NRCC headquarters, a small group of staffers took calls from the media and kept tabs on the returns.

That didn’t sit well with some NRCC staffers, HOH hears, or other Republican staffers.

“I mean, if half the job is showing up …” one GOP insider snarked.

Hanretty tells HOH that while she did attend the Gridiron (“it’s the hottest ticket in town,” she says) she left early and came back to headquarters later in the evening. She insists that the timing of the election — the Illinois polls closed at 8 p.m. and the results weren’t expected to be finalized until later Saturday night — made her stepping out to the dinner unproblematic. “We were able to get our message out, which we had already decided on earlier in the day,” she says. “And I’ve got a great team in place.”

Still, Republican aides tell HOH that the outrage over Hanretty’s party-going had more to do with appearance than substance. “What a way to start out with your staff,” the GOP-er says.

Madam Speaks. A high-priced call-girl ring, a top elected official … The scandal surrounding New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s (D) link to a prostitution ring gave HOH a serious case of déjà vu. It takes us back to the good old days of 2007 and the case of Jeane Palfrey, the “D.C. Madam” whose services Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) admitted to using.

HOH contacted Palfrey, who says she, too, sees parallels between her case and Spitzer’s.

“I always have believed my case was politically motivated,” she e-mails us. “In a politically charged presidential election year [this] is just more indication to me that escort and adult service businesses — which cater to powerful and influential clientele — are now being used as the weapon of choice in American politics.”

While Palfrey herself seems sympathetic, her attorney, Montgomery Blair Sibley, says he can’t comment on the Spitzer case for fear of hurting his client’s interests in the runup to her trial, which is slated to start April 7. Sibley runs a consulting business for “erotic services” firms, but he tells HOH that he’s never worked for Emperors VIP Club, the elite service Spitzer is allegedly linked to. “New York is a whole different world,” Sibley tells HOH.

Traveling Meek-ly. Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.) makes no bones about enjoying the finer things in life. So when an HOH spy spotted Meek on a Sunday afternoon flight from Las Vegas to Dulles, we were hardly surprised that his traveling companions were a sleek Mac laptop, a pair of Bose headphones and a giant, unlit cigar.

The spy says Meek (casually dressed in jeans and a baseball cap) passed the time by appearing to check his e-mail and watch “Meet the Press” on his laptop, all the while chomping on the unlit stogie.

Rock On, Obama. Thought the Democratic presidential race was a crapshoot before? The USARPS, the governing body of the Rock, Paper, Scissors League, has made it official with their new online game “Barack, Paper, Scissors.”

The game (which can be found at usarps .com) pits a cartoon version of Democratic presidential candidate Illinois Sen. Barack Obama against five animated competitors, including Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Matti Leshem, a founder of the league, told HOH that though Obama is the lead character in the game, the league is not backing a particular candidate. “Barack had the right name for the game,” said Leshem of the choice. “Obviously, we couldn’t call it ‘Papery Clinton.’” While Leshem said he hopes the Democratic primary doesn’t come down to rock, paper, scissors, he couldn’t keep his politics completely aside, saying he would rather the primary race be decided by a few rounds of his favorite game than the machinations of the Clinton camp.

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