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Throughout the campaign season, one could have replaced the words “Washington” and “inside the Beltway” with “Gomorrah” and “the River Styx,” and the meaning would have been the same.
Washington was portrayed as a mythical place where terrible things happen to people, even ones who might have once been sensible.
Dino Rossi, the Republican who challenged Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) in a race whose outcome isn’t yet clear, sounded a decidedly anti-Washington note in a debate against the incumbent.
“The problem in Washington, D.C., is they just can’t admit when they’re wrong,” Rossi said. “They can’t change course.”
And Charlie Crist, the Florida Republican-turned-Independent, similarly hinted that D.C. has a transformative power.
“Washington is broken,” he declared during a debate against his opponents for the Florida Senate seat, Republican Marco Rubio and Democratic Rep. Kendrick Meek. “You know, these guys go up there, if they go, and they get into their foxhole.”
In fact, Washington was such a toxic subject, one candidate treated it like political kryptonite.
Ron Johnson, the millionaire who toppled Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold in the Wisconsin Senate race, boasted that he had never even set foot in Washington before entering the campaign.
Since declaring his candidacy, Johnson told CNN that he only went to Washington three times, and even then, he hinted, he didn’t inhale.
“Just to familiarize myself, you know, meet with some groups,” he said. “That’s it.”
And although some candidates won’t have the chance to catch the dreaded Potomac fever, others who bashed Washington will call it home — at least part time.
They will walk the very halls that sat empty on election night. And in the days to come, when the building is again abuzz with the sounds of footsteps and banging gavels, they will be part of the din.