The Arlington County Republican Committee, which already has its hands full attempting to maximize the local vote for the statewide GOP ticket, decided that getting involved in County Board politics might be too much for its plate.
The GOP rank-and-file voted unanimously Oct. 7 not to endorse any of the three independents taking on Democratic County Board incumbent Takis Karantonis in the Nov. 2 election.
“The proper thing to do would be to take no position,” party chair Andrew Loposser said, “especially not knowing all the policy positions they support.”
The decision came after the Arlington GOP had surveyed members on whether they wanted to support one of the three challengers to Karantonis, and if so, which one.
The results came back divided: A total of 39 percent of respondents said the party should take no position or were unsure of which candidate to support; 31 percent said the GOP should support Michael Cantwell; 24 percent said support should go to Adam Theo; and 6 percent wanted support thrown to Audrey Clement.
GOP leaders did reach out to the three challengers, and received “a range of either acceptance or reluctance” to receive the party’s nod, said Arlington County Republican Committee communications director Matthew Hurtt.
For several decades, the Arlington GOP has had trouble recruiting candidates to run for County Board under the Republican banner; the last to hold office as a Republican was Mike Lane, who served for an 10-month period in 1999 after winning a special election.
In 2014, the party endorsed (but did not formally nominate) independent John Vihstadt, who long had ties to the local GOP but was working to cobble together a coalition of Republicans, independents, Greens and disaffected Democrats in his bid to win a special election called after the resignation of Democrat Chris Zimmerman.
Vihstadt won that election and, some months later, the general election. But in 2018, when he sought re-election, Vihstadt distanced himself from the support of Republicans, perhaps because much of the Arlington electorate was incensed by the election of Donald Trump (who received just 17 percent of the Arlington vote in 2016).
Whether Vihstadt’s decision to keep his distance from the GOP (and Greens) in 2018 was a net plus or net minus at the polls remains an open question. In any event, he lost the race to Democrat Matt de Ferranti.
In a 2020 special election called in the wake of the death of County Board member Erik Gutshall, Republicans fielded a candidate (Bob Cambridge), but he was largely a non-factor in a three-way race dominated by Democrat Takis Karantonis and independent Susan Cunningham. Karantonis won easily.
With no nominee, endorsee or even preferred County Board candidate for 2021, Republicans can focus on squeezing every last vote they can from the Arlington electorate for Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin and the remainder of the GOP statewide ticket. Republicans also have fielded nominees in each of the four House of Delegates races that touch on Arlington, but all four districts are effectively impregnable Democratic political fortresses.
Once 2021 is out of the way, the party needs to “take a fresh look” and work on nominating qualified local-office candidates for 2022, said former GOP chair Scott McGeary.
The party’s focus, he said, should be on “those we know are Republicans and filed to run as Republicans.”