I just returned from the annual HARDI fly-in in Washington, D.C. Distributors from around the country converged on Capitol Hill for a jam-packed day of lobbying on behalf of their businesses.

I got to tag along with a few distributors from Illinois, and I could tell they were happy with the reception they got in the freshmen House offices. In fact, one time when we entered the office of a new House representative, his staffer looked down at the HARDI agenda and said, “Looking at this list, it looks like this will be a pretty easy meeting.” It was obvious that both the staffer and the distributors were in agreement that the economy is tough, and government needs to remove barriers that prevent small businesses from growing.

I also noticed that many people were more interested in urging Congress to balance the federal budget than in lobbying for tax credits that might help them personally.

One of the highlights of the HARDI event was a breakfast meeting with two big-name speakers: Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C. Both of these senators have introduced legislation that HARDI strongly supports, and both received standing ovations after their speeches. (I’ll be covering their bills in more detail in an upcoming cover story.)

Both senators were impressive, but I gotta say that Rand Paul really stood out. Burr looked and sounded like a typical politician: tan, well-coiffed, tall, and given to speaking in perfect soundbites. Paul was short, curly-haired, talked a mile a minute, and appeared genuinely honest. “I’m pro-business - small, big, whatever,” he said, and that certainly endeared him to the audience.