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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.

“I wouldn’t be going there green,” she said. “In other words, I’m not going there idealistically, believing that everything works like clockwork. I already know how difficult it is to get things done.

“Given my experience, I know a lot of things can still be done,” explained Kia’aina, who now works for a state agency. “And it takes someone who knows how to navigate things through the system to achieve that.”

Patrick Scates, once the district director for then-Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D-Ind.), is running for his former boss’s old seat, and he has less to worry about when it comes to the taint of Washington. He spent almost four years working in the district.

Scates said the transition from staffer to candidate has its advantages.

“You’re driving to these events, just like you have other times, and you have to remind yourself: ‘Oh these people are coming to hear my thoughts and ideas,’” Scates said. “Always before, you were speaking for the Member and you had to stay on the Member’s message. ... It’s a little easier [now] because you’re speaking for yourself.”

There are 81 current Members who served as paid Congressional aides in their careers. Affable freshman Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Ga.) is one of the longest-serving aides to successfully make the leap, having worked for Rep. John Linder (R-Ga.) for about 15 years before succeeding him. Woodall said his lengthy Hill career wasn’t a negative in his House bid, but rather a plus.

He explained that working on myriad issues for Linder over the years helped him crystallize what he believed and what his position was on just about every issue. That was of use when he hit the campaign trail.

And he saw no electoral trouble based on his time spent in the capital. He said he told voters, “Yes, we’ve spent a lot of time working for the 7th district of Georgia. I’m not embarrassed about that. I’m proud of it. I chose that life!”

Woodall’s take: The animus toward Washington is rooted in unhappiness with the artifice that many see in D.C.

“I think authenticity is what there is a thirst for and much of the anger you see directed toward Washington is because you see a bunch of phonies or you see a bunch of self-serving people,” he said.

But, he said, voters’ gut sense wins out when evaluating former staffers running for Congress.

“That Washington taint: They can tell when they’re talking with you whether the city got its hooks in you.”

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