Arlington Republicans who celebrated political success at the state level on Nov. 2 still have to contend with the results of a local campaign that saw the party either field no candidates for races, or have those who did make the ballot go down to predictably ignominious defeat.
How can the local GOP regain some traction, some mojo, in local politics? Representatives from both the Republicans and the Democrats offered nearly identical advice during a post-election forum.
“Run candidates,” said Arlington County Democratic Committee chair Jill Caiazzo, speaking at a Nov. 10 forum hosted by the Arlington Committee of 100.
Republicans did not have a County Board candidate, did not have a School Board candidate, and punted on taking a position on the four local bond referendums on the ballot, Caiazzo said. The party did field contenders in all four House of Delegates races in Arlington, but as expected, those were kamikaze runs (although in Arlington politics, political kamikazes can and sometimes do return again and again for additional runs).
Caiazzo’s critique was echoed, to a degree, by Arlington County Republican Committee communications chair Matthew Hurtt.
“I want more candidates to run for County Board, and more conservatives to run for School Board,” he said. “We’re looking forward to fielding those candidates.”
But the party’s track record on candidate recruitment is at best spotty. The GOP did informally support independent John Vihstadt’s successful 2014 County Board bid, and backed School Board candidate David Foster in his successful runs in 1999 and 2003. But most years go by with no candidates, and in races where Republicans have a contender (like a 2020 County Board special election), their pick often seems a little known, poorly funded afterthought that stands little chance of catching fire with voters.
At the Committee of 100 forum, Caiazzo (about to wrap up her second and final two-year stint as Democratic chair) said her local party had done everything that had been asked of it in the recently concluded election.
The result “speaks for itself,” she said, pushing back on what she termed Hurtt’s “wildly overstated” views on Republican gains at the local level.
“Arlingtonians came out in force. They feel the Democratic policy positions . . . are what are going to lead us into the future,” Caiazzo said.
She criticized Republicans for not taking positions on any of the four local bond referendums. Deciding to sit those out may well have been part of GOP strategy not to unnecessarily antagonize either side of the political aisle, but also rubbed some the wrong way within the party rank-and-file, who would have liked to have seen some or all of the bonds opposed.
For his part, Hurtt suggested that statewide success by Republicans would trickle down even to true-blue Arlington. (“There’s really nowhere to go but up,” he acknowledged.)
“We are taking that enthusiasm . . . and filling out the ballot with candidates next year,” predicted Hurtt, who has emerged as the primary Arlington GOP spokesman while party chair Andrew Loposser takes a more behind-the-scenes approach to leadership.
The forum, which also featured former state legislator David Ramadan discussing broader implications, was an effort to “dig in” on the impact of the election, said Committee of 100 chair Hannah Dannenfelser.
“We work hard to bring a variety of voices to the table,” she said.