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Hill Experience Could Help Staffers Win Seats

Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Rep. Rob Woodall (right) is one of 81 current Members who once served as paid Congressional aides. The current crop of candidates believe their Capitol Hill experience and knowledge of the process will boost their electoral chances, despite Congress' dismal approval ratings as of late.

Just last month, Richard Hudson had an office in Rayburn House Office Building and, like thousands of other staffers, counseled his boss. But now the former chief of staff to Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) is mounting a campaign to become Conaway’s colleague.

He’s not alone in his ambition to move from behind-the-scenes power broker to Member. There are at least a dozen former Congressional aides running for Congress this cycle, and they all face a unique set of challenges during a time when most Americans view Congress as an institution with particularly deep derision.

Hudson, who is running in North Carolina’s 8th district, served as a district director for former Rep. Robin Hayes (R-N.C.) and knows the region well. He said his Tar Heel State experience is key, but his Capitol Hill knowledge would be a boon to his effectiveness should he win the seat.

“I can talk about conservative ideas and conservative solutions, but I also know how to turn those into law. I think I can be effective day one as a Member of Congress,” Hudson said in an interview. “Whereas other folks, this may be a second career and it may take them awhile to figure out how to turn the lights on and how to find the way to their committee room.”

Hudson said he isn’t worried about his opponents painting him as a Beltway insider because, he said, he’s not one. 

“I didn’t quite fit in with the whole Washington set,” he explained, noting he drives a Chevy Suburban and owns a lot of guns. “The inability to find sweet tea or Cheerwine made Washington, D.C. — it was never going to be a permanent situation for me.”

Other candidates framed their D.C. experience in the same way: They’ve spent enough time here to understand how to make the sclerotic democratic process work for constituents, but they are still in tune with their home districts.

Esther Kia’aina, who worked on the Hill for about 20 years, most recently as chief of staff for former Rep. Ed Case (D-Hawaii), is running for the open seat in the Aloha State’s 2nd district. Far from moving away from her inside-the-Beltway experience, she emphasizes it.

Kia’aina told Roll Call that her experience would give her a key edge in the often gridlocked body.

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