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With one week to Election Day, challengers seek advantage and differentiation

Candidates for Virginia’s 8th Congressional District during a public forum in September (via Arlington County Civic Federation/Facebook)

It’s not easy to beat a Democratic incumbent or endorsee in deep blue Arlington, but independent and GOP candidates in local races are trying to find ways to do just that in the days approaching next week’s general election.

Rep. Don Beyer, who is running to be re-elected to Virginia’s 8th Congressional District, is trading political punches with his challenger Karina Lipsman over news of an investigation into one his staff members.

Barbara Hamlett, a scheduler for Beyer, allegedly reached out to other congressional aides to set up meetings with Chinese embassy members to discuss policy, National Review reported.

“From the moment he learned of these inappropriate activities, Rep. Beyer closely followed directions of security officials, and the staffer is no longer employed by his office,” Beyer spokesman Aaron Fritschner told ARLnow in a statement. “He has been and remains a prominent critic of China’s record on human rights, its threatening behavior towards Taiwan, and its totalitarian repression of its citizens.”

Hamlett “did not have any national security or foreign policy role or influence,” and “inappropriately tried to connect staff in Republican offices with Chinese Embassy staff without Rep. Beyer’s knowledge or consent,” Fritschner said.

ARLnow asked what additional steps Beyer’s office has considered taking to prevent this from happening again. Fritschner said all he can say is that “we are working with security officials to address the issue.”

Lipsman has called for Beyer’s removal from Congressional committees and for a Congressional investigation. Beyer sits on the House Ways and Means Committee and the Joint Economic Committee.

“I have been part of investigations on sensitive national security subjects before, and it’s very clear to me that, based on what we know, this matter must be thoroughly investigated by Congress,” she said. “The extent of Beyer’s office’s ties to the Chinese government needs to be determined, so the level of national security risk can be determined. His office has clearly been compromised. Again, I’ve held top-level security clearances for years and this situation is well within my experience. It needs to be treated extremely seriously.”

Lipsman said she has served for 14 years in the U.S. defense and intelligence communities and has had security clearances “exceeding Top Secret.”

Fritschner said Lipsman’s “baseless, Trumpian insinuations are reminiscent of her previous declaration that ‘Fauci should be jailed.'”

“Lipsman’s unserious demands are a ploy for attention and money, not a genuine concern about national security, which is why she is fundraising off them,” he said. “In reality, when she was busy scrubbing mentions of her opposition to abortion rights from her website in August, Congressman Beyer was in Taiwan standing with our allies in defense of freedom. Lipsman would rather make political hay out of this than talk about her backing for House Republican leadership which wants to wreck the economy, make inflation worse, cut Social Security and Medicare, and cut off support for Ukraine. We are confident that Northern Virginians will see through her.”

The back-and-forth comes a week before the election. This year, registered voters in Arlington can cast their ballots for the Arlington County Board, School Board and Virginia’s 8th Congressional district, as well as six local bond referenda totaling $510 million. For those who are still on the fence, ARLnow will publish, as we do every local election cycle, candidate essays on Friday.

Early voting numbers are down compared with 2021. As of the end of the day yesterday (Monday), about 11,600 people had voted, Arlington Director of Elections Gretchen Reinemeyer said. That tracks with the muted start to early voting in September.

“On average, we’ve been slightly slower than last year’s election,” she said.

A week prior to the election last year, about 15,400 people had voted.

Generally, Reinemeyer said, “turnout in a midterm is about half the turnout of a presidential election.”

In 2021, a total of about 42,700 Arlington residents cast ballots in the general election. During the 2020 presidential election, 130,699 votes were cast, of which President Joe Biden captured 105,344.

Leading up to Election Day, James “Vell” Rives, an independent candidate for the School Board, announced his fundraising has surpassed both his opponent, Democratic endorsee Bethany Sutton.

Rives has netted $39,537, compared to Sutton’s $24,950, according to Virginia Public Access Project.

County Board incumbent and Democrat Matt de Ferranti has raised $186,856, surpassing Audrey Clement’s $24,863 and Adam Theo’s $17,524.

Beyer has raised north of $2 million, while Lipsman has raised $271,432. Independent Teddy Fikre has not reported any funds raised.

A slate of endorsements have come over the last few weeks, too. Transit advocacy group Sustainable Mobility of Arlington endorsed Theo after reviewing responses from the County Board candidates to a transportation questionnaire.

“Theo talks the talk, walks the walk, and knows his stuff. He is passionate, engaged, thoughtful, and knowledgeable on the issues,” the group said in a statement. “Theo would be a sustainable mobility champion on the Board.”

De Ferranti has received a handful of endorsements, including one most recently from the firefighter’s union, Local 2800.

“Matt has worked hard to engage with our members over the last four years. As Chair, he led the Board in passing collective bargaining, a critical step in valuing the professional firefighters of Local 2800 who serve Arlington,” said Local President Brian Lynch in a statement. “Matt also engages with our members, valuing the important life and safety services we provide. Our members are proud to endorse him in this County Board election.”

Clement received an endorsement from former independent County Board member John Vihstadt during an anti-Missing Middle rally outside the last County Board meeting.

“If you want to send a message to the echo chamber and add diversity of thought and perspective to this County Board, pick your candidates wisely,” Vihstadt said. “If you’re the praying type, join me on election day in praying for ‘in-Clement’ weather.”

The frequent candidate for local office is hoping her opposition to the controversial housing plan will allow her to defeat de Ferranti, who took Vihstadt’s seat four years ago. Theo, by contrast, has expressed more support for the Missing Middle plan, while de Ferranti has expressed opposition to the higher eight-unit end of the multifamily housing range that the plan would potentially allow on what are currently single-family-home-only lots.

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