The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Miss America hopefuls prepare for pageant with a D.C. visit — complete with Capitol lockdown

Miss America contestants tour D.C.on July 12, 2016. (Courtesy: Miss America Organization)

When organizers of the Miss America pageant decided to bring all 52 contestants to D.C. for a week-long orientation session, they figured the women were in for a crash course in how Washington works.

One lesson in Washington 101? A lockdown of the Capitol building.

On Tuesday, a brief security scare signaled the start of a reception in the auditorium of the Dirksen Senate building for contestants and the Hill denizens who love them.

Lockdown at Capitol complex has been lifted

Another takeaway from Washington culture: how to lose a contest gracefully. During a speech at the event, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) offered the how-to on this point, explaining his reaction to the presidential election of 2008. “After I lost the election, I slept like a baby,” the Arizona Republican said. “I slept two hours, cried, slept two hours, cried.”

Then the beauty queens — who will take the stage in Atlantic City on Sept. 11 for the big contest — were shown a bit of Beltway-style mudslinging. Sam Haskell, chief executive officer of the Miss America Organization, threw shade at presumptive Republican nominee for president, Donald Trump — who until last year owned the rival pageant, Miss USA. Miss America contestants, Haskell boasted, are smarter and more community-minded than those other tiara seekers.

The pre-pageant Washington sojourn (including a White House tour and meetings with lawmakers) is meant to lend gravitas to the contest, which is anxious to put the focus not on the skimpy swimsuits or the harp performances, but on the scholarships the organization doles out — and on the platforms that the women espouse.

Miss Georgia, Patricia Ford, said that emphasis means that prepping for the pageant means more than carefully selecting an evening gown. “I have had to be challenged in learning what my opinions are and what I believe,” she said.