National Press Club

Lawmaker wins Press Club spelling bee of the century

September 19, 2013 | By Gil Klein |

Senator Tim Kaine celebrates his win.

Senator Tim Kaine celebrates his win.

Photo/Image: Andrew Dubbs

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., won the coveted title of “Best Speller in the United States” at a spirited spelling bee Sept. 18 pitting lawmakers against journalists that drew more than 350 people to the National Press Club's Ballroom.

Amidst two hours of jokes, goading and high fives, Beltway denizens were asked to spell words such as "vicissitude," "shenanigans" and "potato." While the journalists lost the trophy, they won the competition in points – 38 to 36 – because more journalists than lawmakers stayed in the competition longer. Each team was awarded one point for each correctly spelled word, and each speller took on one word per round.

In the last rounds, the Kaine went head-to-head with the journalists’ final contender standing, Politico’s Rebecca Sinderbrand. Kaine, who was ribbed by journalists for his correct spellings of gourmand terms such as "radicchio" and "aperitif," won by spelling “nonpareil” correctly after Sinderbrand fell to "ochlocracy."

Kaine told Huffington Post reporter Chris Gentilviso that he was doing more than representing his lawmaker colleagues -- he "wanted to do well for oppressed, poor male spellers everywhere."

"I just feel like men, we just have such a poor track record of success in the general field of spelling and orthography that I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to kind of break a glass ceiling in a way and show that men can spell," Kaine told HuffPo.

The spelling bee revived a century-old event at the Press Club. In 1913, a House member from Ohio bested the journalists in front of President Woodrow Wilson, members of his Cabinet and a thousand other people at the Willard Hotel.

Sponsored by the Club’s History and Heritage Committee to raise money for its Journalism Institute, the bee was organized by Time Magazine’s Katy Steinmetz, who lined up four senators, five house members and nine journalists to compete.

Competing with Kaine and Sinderbrand were journalists Howard Fineman of the Huffington Post, Ed Henry of Fox News, Major Garrett of CBS News, Kate Nocera of BuzzFeed, Meredith Shiner of Roll Call, Ashley Southall of the New York Times, Karen Tumulty of the Washington Post, and Toby Zakaria of Reuters.

Lawmakers included Sens. Chris Coons, D-Del., Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., as well as House members Matt Cartwright, D-Penn., Gerry Connolly, D-Va., Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., Ted Deutch, D-Fla., and Anna Eshoo, D-Calif.

The bee was run by professional spelling bee organizers from Merriam Webster Inc., which provided the words and pronouncer Peter Sokolowski., and the E.W. Scripps Company. Paige Kimble, executive director of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, and Georgetown University linguistics department chair Heidi Hamilton served as judges.

A video of the bee will be posted here on YouTube.

For many of the highlights of the competition, see this article in the National Journal.