One thing’s for sure after Wednesday night: If you want to win a spelling bee, you better be a Democrat from Virginia.
Freshman Rep. Don Beyer Jr. bested fellow lawmakers and journalists to take home the National Press Club spelling bee trophy, taking the title of best speller on Capitol Hill from the 2013 champion: Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va. Kaine didn’t make it past the fourth round this time at the Politicians vs. Press competition, adding one “t” too many times on the word “Connecticuter.” After the showdown, Kaine was overheard saying he had his money on Beyer, and noted Beyer earned a perfect score on his SAT.
“That was a long time ago,” Beyer said with a laugh when asked about Kaine’s assessment. Beyer said he didn’t really prepare for the event, aside from reading some words in the car on the way over.
The freshman congressman and former ambassador/lieutenant governor/car dealer/park ranger (which might explain his knowing nod when facing the word “beryl,” a green mineral) went nearly 20 rounds on his own. The judges said the game lasted 23 rounds total, and every lawmaker but Beyer had been eliminated by the sixth round.
A spell-off ensued at the end of the competition between Beyer and The Washington Posts’s Karoun Demirjian, and they began matching each other word for word. A crucial moment came at Round 17 when the trophy was in Demirjian’s sight, but she added an extra “s’ to impresario, giving Beyer another shot.
“I was embarrassed,” Demirjian said of her misstep. “It didn’t cross my mind that there should have been a single ‘s.'”
The crowd held its breath a few rounds later when Beyer correctly spelled apostasy, clinching his victory.
Though Beyer won the trophy, the eight journalists showed they had a way with words, out-spelling the seven lawmakers 67-32. In addition to Demirjian, the other spelling scribes included Angela Greiling Keane of Bloomberg News; David Kerley of ABC News; Rod Kuckro of E&E News; Yochi Dreazen of Foreign Policy; Clinton Yates of The Washington Post; Ellyn Ferguson of CQ Roll Call; and Nick Gass of Politico.
On Congress’ team, Beyer and Kaine were joined by Democratic Reps. Ted Lieu of California; Brad Ashford of Nebraska; and Bill Pascrell Jr. of New Jersey.
Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota also teamed up with their Democratic counterparts to take on the Fourth Estate.
But at one point Flake forgot there was another Republican on stage, saying he was the sole representative of the GOP. He also quipped when he reached the podium to face his first word, “Please don’t let it be speaker. We can’t spell speaker.”
This gave Emmer an opening to chide Flake, reminding him that he, too, is a Republican, and countering, “You’d probably could spell speaker if you’d take the damn bill up.” Bicameral B-U-R-N.
The audience started the night with laughs from comedian Tim Young, who began his routine with a video of him coaching Kaine with his spelling. As the night went on, the crowd became enthralled by the competition, spelling words under its breath, gasping at mistakes, grumbling about bizarre words and cheering for correct answers.
To add to the excitement, representatives from the Scripps National Spelling Bee moderated the competition, which included pronouncer Jacques Bailly quizzing the combatants. The national bee champions, Vanya Shivashankar and Gokul Venkatachalam were also on hand to ring the bells for incorrect answers.
And though it was a fun night filled with laughter, excitement, and some 90s throwback songs courtesy of the band White Ford Bronco, the event also had a serious purpose: to benefit the press club’s Journalism Institute and the club itself as it works to further press freedoms.
As guests entered the 13th floor for the event, they passed a table with a petition urging Iran to release Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, who has been detained in Iran since he was arrested in July 2014 and was convicted last week on vague charges of espionage.
Rezaian’s story was not lost on the participants Wednesday night. When Lieu was faced with “empleomania,” or a mania for holding public office, he knew he couldn’t spell it.
So, instead he spelled, “F-R-E-E- J-A-S-O-N.”
Alex Clearfield contributed to this report.
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