Nobody on Capitol Hill to witness start of new era

The letter sitting outside of Rep. Richard Burr’s (R-N.C.) locked Longworth office yesterday was addressed to “Senator Richard Burr.” It symbolizes the happenings on Capitol Hill after a long election night: Big changes are afoot, but not many are around to take notice.
Capitol Hill was largely empty yesterday. Many member offices were closed, and newspaper stacks piled up at their doorsteps. Those that were open were often only staffed with interns, as staffers were still on the campaign trail or recovering from a long night. Capitol Hill police officers said it was an unusually quiet day.

Few groups toured the Capitol, and little traffic could be seen on Independence and Constitution avenues. Those working were mostly security and support staff, along with some junior staffers who worked in the offices that did open.

Empty tables in the Longworth cafeteria outnumbered those that were taken at lunchtime, and only half of the registers were open. Apart from a few Bush-Cheney T-shirts, partisan apparel was as absent as the suits that normally pack the hallways on Capitol Hill. More evidence that the election had taken place were the television news shows broadcasting the latest developments from the presidential race into those offices that were open.

The only visible sign of the unhappiness of Democrats with the election result was a tossed-out newspaper featuring a picture of Bush on which somebody had scribbled horns.

Two large recycling bins stood outside of the office of Rep. Max Sandlin (D-Texas), one of the lawmakers who lost his seat because of his state’s redistricting plan. Another recycling bin could be found in Rep. Nick Lampson’s (D-Texas) office, who also was not elected to the 109th Congress.

The Capitol offices of Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), who lost a close reelection campaign, were locked, as were the offices of Reps. Brad Carson and Joe Hoeffel, the Democratic candidates who came up short in bids to win Senate seats from Oklahoma and Pennsylvania, respectively.

But not just the offices of those losing the elections were empty. Winners also did not show up today, such as Burr, who won the open North Carolina Senate seat. Only two interns staffed the office of Rep. Jim DeMint (R), who won the open South Carolina Senate seat vacated by Sen. Fritz Hollings (D). Hollings was one of the few lawmakers who could be found on Capitol Hill yesterday.

Democrats who did show up said they were very disappointed with the outcome of the election. Senate Democrats were shell-shocked by Daschle’s loss, which left the party without a leader going into a congressional session that features more solid GOP majorities in the both chambers of Congress.

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Sen. Jon Corzine (N.J.) said a map tilted in favor of the Republicans was to blame for the Democratic losses. He also praised his departing leader, saying he “will be remembered as one of the giants to ever grace the Senate stage.”

Corzine vowed that the shifting majorities would not keep Democrats “from using the tools available to us to protect and advance our party’s views and values on behalf of the American people.”

Corzine’s GOP counterpart, Sen. George Allen (R-Va.), called Daschle’s defeat a “monumental” win for challenger John Thune and celebrated the “historic” Republican Senate gains.