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Arlington remains Democratic stronghold, but GOP celebrates education-driven inroads

Voting on Tuesday at Swanson Middle School in Westover (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

(Updated at 4:40 p.m.) Last night’s election gave Arlington’s local Republican and Democratic parties both reason to celebrate, while at the state level, Democrats ceded ground to the GOP.

Arlington maintained its reputation as a solidly blue county Tuesday night, with a majority of voters supporting every Democrat-endorsed or supported candidate and bond referenda on the ballot.

Meanwhile, Arlington’s Republican party says it is celebrating greater enthusiasm for the party locally than it has seen in years. At the state level, Republicans swept Richmond: Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin beat former governor Terry McAuliffe, while fellow Republicans Lieutenant Governor-elect Winsome Sears and Attorney General-elect Jason Miyares became the first Black woman and Latino respectively to win statewide office.

“Terry was a low-energy candidate,” Arlington GOP Communications Director Matt Hurtt said. “Glenn was a dynamic candidate who enthused Republicans and independents. You have to believe a candidate is going to win, and Republicans believed Glenn was going to win. Even in a place like Arlington, we had a 33% increase [in Republican votes].”

At the county level, 60% of voters secured the re-election of incumbent Democrat Takis Karantonis to the Arlington County Board. Voters handily elected Arlington Democrats-endorsed Mary Kadera to the Arlington School Board, succeeding Monique O’Grady.

Arlington re-elected Virginia House of Delegates members Patrick Hope (D-47), Rip Sullivan (D-48), and Alfonso Lopez (D-49), while Democrat Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, currently the City of Alexandria’s vice mayor, was elected to represent the 45th District, which includes parts of Arlington.

“The tremendous outpouring of Democratic support in Arlington was inspiring and contributed to victories in several critical races,” Arlington County Democratic Committee Chair Jill Caiazzo said in a statement. “At the end of the day, we fell short statewide, but we’re confident that the Democratic leaders elected today will continue the fight for a brighter future in Virginia for everyone.”

Karantonis, who has been through three county-wide elections in 20 months, says largely, the priorities of Arlingtonians — and his three vanquished independent candidates — remain the same: housing, healthcare, economic development, the environment, equity, schools and transportation.

“I do believe this election season has underscored the set of issues that have been present along the entire 20 months that I’ve been in political campaign mode,” he said. “It was just a re-emphasis on things that residents need, and I’ve been proposing approaches that could bring measurable improvement.”

Republicans ride education to victory 

While Arlington had a solidly Democrat showing, Hurtt said enthusiasm for Republicans grew leading up to election night. He pointed to the nearly 6-percentage point shift to the right between Donald Trump, who netted 17% of Arlingtonians’ votes, to Youngkin, who received 22.8% of votes.

An Arlington GOP meeting in May had 80 people — the highest attendance in decades, we’re told — and the record was soon broken by an event two weeks ago that netted 200 people and the Tuesday night watch party that attracted 300.

And one new issue drove that support, Hurtt says: education.

“I think the frustration there among parents was palpable,” he said.

That frustration came from a number of new schools issues taken on by Republicans, who’ve traditionally rallied around school choice and homeschooling.

Among them: how systemic racism is taught in schools; policy decisions to eliminate or lower admissions standards for advanced programs in the name of education equity; and in places such as Arlington and Fairfax counties, frustrations over school closures and masking.

“Unequivocally, [Critical Race Theory] 101 is not being taught in Virginia schools. That said, the lens through which every subject is taught… has the lens of critical theory, a philosophy of questioning the institutions,” Hurtt said. “To say to a child that everything around them is stacked against them or stacked in their favor [based on their race] is a destructive way to teach someone who’s forming their belief system.”

On education equity issues, he pointed to Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax County changing its admissions standards.

At the state level, the Virginia Department of Education also cited equity in its decision to eliminate accelerated math courses prior to 11th grade.

On these issues, Hurtt said, McAuliffe wasn’t strong.

“It was clear in the last 96 hours of the campaign that Terry had lost his footing,” Hurtt said. “He gave us the greatest gift by saying, ‘Parents shouldn’t have a say in kids’ education.’ Whether he meant to say it that way or not, that’s what parents went into the polls considering.”

Electoral history repeats itself

While Youngkin was able to ride education issues to victory, Hurtt predicted the focus on education will recede slightly in the next year’s midterms.

“Congress doesn’t have as much of a say in the education system, and so I think that education may take a back seat,” he said.

Still, last night’s election proved electoral history tends to repeat itself — as in years past, “the White House is a burden for the presidential party in Virginia,” according to the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.

The Republican victory statewide will likely bolster candidates on the right during the 2022 midterm elections, the center’s analysis said. In light of last night, the group said a number of state Senate seats that were previously considered safely blue are now less so, and possibly toss-ups.

In addition, without Donald Trump in office, the center said Republicans turned out in force and made up ground in the suburbs, places that lost Republican support during the Trump years.

Hurtt agreed with that assessment, saying Youngkin was “able to bring all sides of the Republican party together” and that his campaign was largely impervious to the anti-Trump messaging coming from McAuliffe’s campaign. The campaign held two major events in Arlington with President Joe Biden, who mentioned the former president’s name two dozen times during the most recent campaign stop.

There’s bi-partisan work to do

In a statement, Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA), who represents the Northern Virginia suburbs, congratulated Youngkin.

“[Youngkin] will be Virginia’s next Governor, and while he and I have many disagreements, we both want what is best for the Commonwealth,” Beyer said. “I look forward to working with him in areas where we have common ground to continue Governor Northam’s strong record of progress, though I will always defend my constituents’ values.”

He also congratulated Sears and Miyares for their historic wins, saying “this is an important milestone for our Commonwealth which they worked hard to earn.”

As for the new Republican leadership coming to Richmond, Karantonis said it is concerning for Democrats. But for the all-Democrat County Board, working with statewide offices, regardless of the party in power, is part of the job description, he said.

“Our job will be to be constructive and work for residents in Arlington County,” he said. “In good Commonwealth tradition, there will be mutual respect and understanding, despite the political differences that we may have… I’m reasonably optimistic we can get things done and further the issues that are important to us.”

Given the important role education played in last night’s election, Karantonis reiterated his support for Arlington Public Schools.

“The basic takeaway here is that we are always right to insist that it is an asset for Arlington to have an excellent public school system and I will continue to support investment in public schools,” he said. “And I very much hope that — and I believe that the vast majority of Arlingtonians, regardless of their other political persuasions — align with that.”

Local voters did express their support for schools in another way last night, passing a $52.7 million bond issue for APS capital projects.

They also supported a $38.7 million bond issue to finance Metro, road and pedestrian capital projects, a $6.8 million bond issue to support capital improvements to local parks and recreational facilities, and a $17 million bond issue to finance capital projects to county and community infrastructure.

The school bond received the second-highest total of “yes” votes: 72,004 with all but one precinct reporting. The Metro and transportation bond was the highest with 72,610 votes.

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