Come January, Washington’s hottest invitation is going to be for the 12-and-under set: a play date with Sasha Obama, 7, or Malia, 10. Because while tens of thousands of people filter through the White House each year for receptions and dinners, only a few hundred kids have a shot at becoming Sasha’s or Malia’s new best friend. And there is nothing like the lure of First Family friendship to send ambitious Washingtonians scurrying. According to gossip around town, the well-connected have been hedging their bets since the September. Indeed, at the start of the school year, the head of Georgetown Day School, a front-runner in the Obama school derby, joked at a faculty meeting that GDS had gone ahead and saved a spot in second grade for Sasha. (He wasn’t kidding; according to a staff member’s count, GDS’s admissions team left this fall’s incoming grade class one student short.) Over at Sidwell Friends, the other front-runner, students were admonished to be low-key and not to ask for autographs when Michelle Obama dropped by to visit, but that didn’t stop them from lining up at the front door, cameras and cell-phones poised to capture the visit for posterity. But the school gauntlet is nothing compared to the parental gauntlet. “Parents want to position their kids at the top of the social heap,” explains a former school administrator at one of Washington’s top private schools. “They want first dibs on the new families, and nothing would be more prized than to lay the groundwork for a friendship with the first daughters.” And in laying the groundwork, Washingtonians have plenty of practice. If you want a glimpse of what lengths parents will go to get their children face time with the first daughters, consider the feeding frenzy that surrounds the daughters of ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. It was a June day in 2004 when Stephanopoulos and his wife, Alexandra Wentworth, who had recently moved into one of Georgetown’s elegant, brick town homes, learned about InTown, the exclusive local playschool for one and two-year-olds. InTown requires no less than an application, family meeting, and interview to even consider an unsuspecting one-year-old for access to its Duplo blocks and finger paint pots. By the time the Stephanopouloses arrived, applications had closed, and InTown had a steep 20-family waiting list. No matter. According to one InTown board member, the thinly veiled consensus was that most of the people there wanted to be friends with the Stephanopoulos family and more than a few board members were eagerly eyeing an invite to the family’s annual Christmas party. Thus did the Stephanopoulos daughter leap-frog over the rest of the list and get in. Now, some four years later, Georgetown social networkers have a new goal: maneuvering their daughters into six-year-old Elliott Stephanopoulos’s ballet class. But for a close encounter with the Obama girls, ambitious parents vying for the best opportunity will at a minimum scrutinize afterschool activity lists and foreign language preferences to strategically place their kids in the same class. An Obama daughter ballet or soccer roster might be a better guide to the current status of political fortunes in Washington than a White House personnel flow chart. Mothers who usually delegate tasks to the nanny will suddenly materialize for carpool, if it involves getting a glimpse of, or curbside moment with, the presidential offspring. Then come the invitations for parties and play dates. At one private school in the Washington suburbs, parents flew in Abercrombie & Fitch models to walk around serving drinks and food at a 14-year-old’s birthday party, in part just to impress the children of several well-connected political families in her class. For a rendezvous the first daughters, even in these cash-strapped times, one Georgetown hostess still thinks that a few striving parents will consider digging deep to produce Miley Cyrus or the Jonas Brothers. The perks of such strategic alliances can be huge. Even the children of leading Cabinet secretaries can sometimes bring their friends along to a weekend at Camp David. One mother, whose stepson received a Camp David invite, says that single weekend might have made the nearly $30,000 yearly private school tuition “worth it.” “People tend to forget the whole next layer of Cabinet people,” adds the former private-school administrator. Still, for now, the Obama girls remain the ultimate prize. But just getting close to them, in a post 9/11 world, will require Washingtonians to come up some very new tricks. Gone are the days from the early 1990s when the Clintons vacationed in Martha’s Vineyard as the First Family. Then, a fellow Sidwell Friends family (the father had actually been a notable Ronald Reagan appointee) chartered a nicely equipped boat and sailed around the island. Their goal: To score the ultimate school social coup and get 13-year-old Chelsea Clinton on board with their kids for a sail. In fact, some school heavyweights say that in this new security world, you should be careful what you wish for. Birthday party venues will have to pass muster with the Secret Service and have enough space for the Obama girls to bring their own security force. Or imagine a Friday night high school football game where every coat, bag, and blanket has to be checked and metal detectors erected because the First Family has a spot in the bleachers. Another school administrator who has dealt not only with the Secret Service on a regular basis, but also had a campus swarming with private security forces to protect one of the children of a Saudi diplomat, says, “Right now, I bet the Secret Service is all over the campuses of the leading schools for the Obama girls, checking how many ways are there in and out, what the security situation is like. I’d be surprised too if the Secret Service didn’t have some input into the final choice. And if you’re the school eventually selected, you don’t tell the Secret Service what you want to do, they will tell you what you are going to do.” The administrator adds, “I’m not sure that three years from now, I’d still want to be getting there two hours early for every school assembly to clear security, just because Mrs. Obama may want to come.” But by then, Malia will be 13, and ambitious parents will have a whole new strategy to plot: which boy will escort her to school dances and eventually the prom.