WASHINGTON — A presidential election just getting into gear provided President Barack Obama plenty of new material to work with on the night he describes as Washington celebrating itself.
"It's amazing how time flies," Obama told those attending the annual dinner of the White House Correspondents' Association on Saturday night. "Soon, the first presidential contest will take place, and I for one cannot wait to see who the Koch brothers pick. It's exciting."
Obama added: "Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker ... who will finally get that red rose?"
On the Democratic side, Obama observed that Hillary Rodham Clinton kicked things off by going unrecognized to Chipotle. Meanwhile, he said, former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley went completely unrecognized at an O'Malley campaign event.
Taking a playful poke at himself and at Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is considering a bid, Obama said: "Apparently, some folks want to see a pot-smoking socialist in the White House. We could get a third Obama term after all."
The dinner also gave the president an opportunity to rib some of his loudest critics.
"Just this week Michele Bachmann actually predicted that I would bring about the biblical end of days. Now, that's a legacy," he said. "That's big. I mean, Lincoln, Washington, they didn't do that."
The correspondents' dinner brings in some big names from Hollywood. Some of the cast members from the TV series "Black-ish" attended, and Obama said he had to give ABC fair warning about the show. "Being black-ish only makes you popular for so long," he said. "Trust me, there's a shelf life to that thing."
Of course, he had to give a shout-out to his health care law.
"Today, thanks to Obamacare, you no longer have to worry about losing your insurance, if you lose your job," he said. "You're welcome, Senate Democrats."
The featured entertainer of the night, Cecily Strong from "Saturday Night Live," got some big laughs with some tough subjects. For example, she observed that the Secret Service is the one law enforcement agency that could get in trouble if a black man gets shot.
"Your hair is so white now," she told the president, "it can talk back to police."
And she had the journalists repeat after her and solemnly swear they will not talk about Hillary Rodham Clinton's appearance "because that is not journalism."
The mix of Washington journalists and Hollywood stars — showcased live on C-SPAN, the political nerd's favorite cable channel — delivered hours of interesting images for hardy viewers. (Yes, that was Oscar-winner Jane Fonda on the arm of CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer.)
Few of the politicians who may want to succeed Obama showed up for the dinner. One on hand was Donald Trump, who again has been teasing Republicans about running for national office.
Most of the prospective and declared Republican candidates stayed away. Many chose to meet potential supporters and donors at conservative gatherings in Las Vegas and Des Moines, Iowa.
The dinner helps fund scholarships and awards that recognize journalists. This year's award winners include:
—Josh Lederman of The Associated Press and Jim Avila of ABC News, the Merriman Smith Award for presidential coverage under deadline pressure.
—Peter Baker of The New York Times, the Aldo Beckman Award for repeated excellence in White House coverage.
—The Edgar A. Poe Award, recognizing coverage of news of national or regional significance, to The Washington Post's Carol A. Leonnig and The Wall Street Journal team of Gary Fields, John R. Emshwiller, Rob Barry and Coulter Jones.
Scott Horsley of National Public Radio received a special mention in the Beckman Award category for his coverage of White House policies and politics.