After all the campaign talk of Founding Fathers and other long-dead leaders, it seems only fitting that on election night, they are the only men to be found in the Capitol.
On Tuesday night, as the election returns began rolling in and celebrations started in hotel ballrooms and bars across the country, the domed white building sat nearly empty. By the time the last streaks of light had left the sky, the marble busts, bronze statues and oil renderings of the nationís deceased greatest were the only figures left, save for a few Capitol Police officers.
Candidates around the country had spent the better part of the past year professing disgust at Washington, D.C., and Congress ó whose most powerful symbol is its marble-clad Rotunda. And yet, they spent millions of dollars and months of energy trying to become its most powerful insiders.
They hoped to someday enter the Senate chamber, which on election night was closed from sight behind heavy wooden doors, or stride onto the House floor, which on Tuesday night could be glimpsed through the glass panes of the doors leading to the Speakerís Lobby.
Someday, those Washington-bashers will take lunch at the Membersí Dining Room, arguably one of the most exclusive restaurants in the country. On election night, though, it is closed. Outside the doors, coat hangers dangled on an empty coat rack.
All of the drama on election night centers on who will walk these halls and who will control this building. But on this one night, it is the one place you wonít find anyone.
Earlier in the evening, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was apparently the only Member working in the building. The Kentucky Republicanís office on the second floor, just steps from the Senate floor, hummed with activity.
Staffers gathered around a television screen while they waited for their boss, who was preparing for the upcoming lame-duck session. Their voices bounced off the polished tiled floors and down empty hallways.
ďItís like when your wife goes into labor,Ē said McConnell spokesman Don Stewart, who was one of the small band of staffers in the office. ďAt this point, you canít affect the outcome.Ē
Around 7:30 p.m., McConnell left, surrounded by a knot of his aides, who appeared to be in a jubilant mood. The night was still young, and they could very well end it with the prospect of retaking the Senate.
And then, all was silent in the Capitol.
Part of the reason for the quiet has to do with Congressional rules: House and Senate policy forbids using Congressional resources for campaign purposes. Staffers usually interpret that to mean that campaign business canít be done in Congressional buildings.
The Capitol as an election-night ghost town is a relatively recent tradition. It once might have been the site of rowdy soirees. ďItís in contrast to 1994. ... You canít have committee chairmen throwing parties where lobbyists set up dinner tables in the committee rooms anymore,Ē says Jan Baran, an election law attorney with Wiley Rein.
But now, the rules are different ó and so is the attitude toward Washington.