It may appear overshadowed by this year’s statewide races and political strife nationally, but the three Arlington County Board candidates are hard at work preparing for the fall campaign season.
Things get into high gear as the Arlington County Civic Federation hosts its first candidate forum, the traditional curtain-raiser on the final few months before Election Day. The forum will be held on Tuesday, September 5 in Virginia Hospital Center’s Hazel Auditorium ( ive).
And the candidates — Democratic nominee Erik Gutshall, and independents Audrey Clement and Charles McCullough II — said they are looking forward to getting into the campaign’s final stages and winning over more voters in upcoming debates.
“It’s also education of people, because I think there can be misconceptions about what I stand for and where I come from and those that don’t know me real well… might believe things about me that are flatly untrue, demonstrably untrue,” Gutshall said. “People getting a chance to see who I really am and what I stand for, I think could happen from those forums to the extent I’m able to reach people who didn’t participate in the Democratic caucus process.”
First-time candidate McCullough said he welcomed the opportunity to keep putting his progressive message forward and introducing his policy ideas to more and more people.
“What’s nice about getting in front of folks, just like I’ve been doing this entire time, what’s good is to be able to present that inclusive vision of Arlington and what it means to have a putting people-first attitude of policymaking,” he said. “[When] I’m able to forward that vision, the momentum is going to grow.”
Clement, a perennial candidate, said she is hopeful of picking up more votes as the statewide races come into the spotlight more and more. In last year’s election against Libby Garvey and on the same ballot as the Presidential race, Clement received just over 27,000 votes, something she put down to the high-profile nature of that race.
She said after the violence in Charlottesville at a white supremacist rally, Virginia’s elections take on added significance and that could help her.
“Last year, even though basically Hillary Clinton overwhelmingly took the county, I got a very sizable number of votes because the turnout was so high,” Clement said. “That’s not going to happen this year, but the Charlottesville incident has probably increased interest in the Governor’s race and that should help me. Insurgents always benefit from increased turnout.”
McCullough’s campaign received a boost in late June, as the Arlington Green Party announced they were endorsing him in the upcoming election after meeting with him several times.
The Greens do not have a nominee in this year’s election, but have previously endorsed Clement and John Vihstadt, who sits on the County Board as an independent after a long association with the local Republican party, which also endorsed him. Arlington Greens chair John Reeder said McCullough is very impressive on issues like small business, curbing development, helping ease school capacity worries and adding more affordable housing.
“We like what he said about issues that we’ve been really deeply involved in over the past few years,” Reeder said. “He’s young, he’s progressive, we think he’s very personable. So we think he would be a good addition to the County Board.”
And while McCullough emphasized his independence from any party, he said it shows that momentum is gathering behind his campaign.
“It is snowballing, it’s growing,” he said. “I’m grateful for the endorsement. It shows I’m strong on parks and strong on the environment, and what I hope to do is have endorsement from voters across the political spectrum. It’s all about us all being meaningfully included.”
Beyond candidate forums, all three said they are looking forward to stepping up their campaigns ahead of Election Day on November 7. Reeder said the Arlington Greens will provide McCullough support with fundraising and by holding joint events, as well as encouraging party members to volunteer for his campaign.
Meanwhile, Clement said she will look to target millennial voters by having her paid canvasser drop campaign literature in the large apartment buildings in Rosslyn, Clarendon, Ballston and possibly Crystal City.
And Gutshall said his campaign is working to finalize a “listening tour” to get the perspectives of businesses in the county and what the local government can do to help them grow.