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Thursday, March 23, 2023
ArlingtonDemocrats pick up pieces, aim to move forward

Democrats pick up pieces, aim to move forward

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After pausing briefly to acknowledge the carnage of Nov. 2, the Arlington County Democratic Committee a day later shoved the pedal to the metal in an effort to put the statewide election debacle behind them and focus on the coming year.

“Let’s use this as a wake-up call. We are strong enough to start again,” party chair Jill Caiazzo said at the Democrats’ monthly meeting, which started exactly 24 hours after the polls closed on a day Virginia Democrats would like to forget.

“We are going to dust ourselves off,” Caiazzo said. “This experience has battered us, but we are not broken.”

By the time the meeting started, two pieces of bad news that had been assumed earlier in the day were confirmed – Republicans would control the House of Delegates again after two years of Democratic rule, and Republican Jason Miyares won the race for attorney general, ousting two-term Democratic incumbent Mark Herring.


That means the GOP will occupy all three statewide offices – governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general – and run the lower house of the legislature. Democrats have a slim majority in the state Senate, the only backstop the party has to stop Republican legislation.

In Arlington, Democrats had a good night on Nov. 2, as the party’s County Board, School Board and House of Delegates candidates rolled up substantial victories. While the margin of victory for the statewide candidates in Arlington wasn’t as wide as the party’s success when Donald Trump was on the ballot, the county still gave Democratic candidates healthy majorities.

“We did our best. We did as well as we could,” said Carol Fontein, the Democrats’ precinct-operations major-domo who marshalled 600 poll greeters to hand out sample ballots on Election Day.

(Choosing to look forward rather than back, Fontein put out a call for volunteers for 2022. “It’s not too soon to sign up,” the indefatigable campaigner said.)

While many party leaders tried to keep a stiff upper lip, it was harder for others.

“I woke up this morning and felt like someone kicked me in the stomach,” said Paul Ruiz, one of five co-chairs of the Arlington Democrats’ “Joint Campaign” that coordinated local election efforts.

Ruiz held it together on the dais, but Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti – another Joint Campaign chair – did not. She broke down.

“I didn’t plan to cry,” said Dehghani-Tafti, whose dreams of more progressive legislation on criminal-justice issues may have died with the election of Miyares as attorney general and a Republican majority in the House of Delegates.

“We need to pause and regroup,” Dehghani-Tafti acknowledged after composing herself.

Party leaders took solace in the fact the night could have been worse. Arlington Democrats’ outreach efforts to other parts of the commonwealth paid some dividends, Caiazzo said.

“Dan Helmer and Wendy Gooditis owe their seats” to Arlington Democrats’ efforts, she said, pointing to two embattled Democratic legislators who survived the Republican onslaught.

Whether the 2021 election results provide Democrats with the same opportunity as occurred after Donald Trump’s 2016 victory – the ability to energize voters into more active involvement in the party – remains an open question. But the possibility exists.

“There are people hurting,” Caiazzo said. “Let’s try to pull them in.”
But for the time being, the party seemed to have already moved to the “acceptance” stage of grief.

“Sometimes the numbers don’t add up,” sighed Scott McConnell, a co-chair of the Joint Campaign. “It wasn’t for a lack of trying.”

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