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It took the election of Donald Trump in 2016 to re-energize and motivate Arlington’s dominant, but at that point somewhat moribund, Democrats. And the election result of 2020 may have had the same caffeinating impact on the Arlington County Republican Committee.
“I’m super-pumped . . . by the number [of attendees] and the level of enthusiasm,” party communications director Matthew Hurtt said at the Jan. 27 committee meeting, which attracted a crowd of about 80 to Zoom.
Attendees brought “exactly the kind of energy” the local party needs to regain a toehold in local politics, Hurtt suggested.
And perhaps he’s right: Instead of descending into pro-Trump and never-Trump factions, the meeting focused on battling a common opponent – Democrats – at the state and local levels.
“We’re going to have a big opportunity this year,” party chair Andrew Loposser said at the event.
“We’ve got a lot of new faces,” Loposser said, pointing to about 15 prospective new members on hand, many of them well below the normal average age of attendees.
But before getting swept up in the enthusiasm, it’s worth noting that Republicans, long the minority in Arlington politics, found themselves crushed to near-oblivion during the Trump era.
Trump himself garnered less than 20 percent of the county vote in both 2016 and 2020, and Democrats were able to capitalize on community fury at his 2016 victory to draw more voters into local races, knocking independent John Vihstadt off the County Board in 2018 in the process.
The Arlington GOP has had chronic trouble recruiting viable candidates, and its finances – including about $4,400 on hand at the start of the year – are paltry compared to the Arlington County Democratic Committee’s war chest. Like Republicans statewide and nationally, the local party also in recent years has been faced with trying to accommodate factions with decidedly different opinions of Trump.
But with Democrats pushing an increasingly aggressive progressive (and, to many Republicans, horrifying) agenda in Richmond and Washington, both sides in the intra-party GOP feud just might now find common cause. Time will tell.
In addition to statewide races, the Nov. 2 election in Arlington will feature one County Board seat (currently occupied by Democrat Takis Karantonis, who is expected to seek re-election) and one School Board seat (occupied by Democrat Monique O’Grady, who is not), along with four House of Delegates seats. The party has until June to secure its candidates.
There potentially could be special elections throughout the year, low-turnout affairs that often blunt some of the institutional advantages of Democrats. But when Republicans were handed such an opportunity last year (a special election to fill the seat of County Board member Erik Gutshall, who died in office), the party’s candidate ran a lackluster race, raised little money and was not much of a factor in the outcome.
Months after the onset of COVID last March, Republicans briefly returned to in-person meetings but are now back to gathering via computer screen and smartphone, in part because Gov. Northam tightened restrictions on gatherings in the fall.
(It appears that Summers restaurant, which had served as a gathering-point for Republican meetings in recent years, has become a permanent victim of the economic downturn that accompanied the pandemic.)