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Arlington GOP sees record fundraising amid pivot to local election strategy

Republican candidate for County Board Juan Carlos Fierro (staff photo by James Jarvis)

(Updated at 5 p.m. on 8/10/23) The Arlington County GOP says it’s pivoting away from national politics and working to assemble a broad coalition galvanized by hyper-local issues.

The first test of this new strategy will be the November County Board election when residents will have the opportunity to vote for the Republican nominee, Juan Carlos Fierro.

An immigrant from Ecuador with nearly three decades of experience in international business and finance, Fierro is aiding the party’s efforts to cultivate a diverse alliance and embrace Republicans, as well as Independents and Democrats, from myriad backgrounds.

The last time a Republican was elected to the Board was Mike Lane in 1999. But party leaders, including newly elected Chair of the Arlington County GOP, Matthew Hurtt, are optimistic that their new strategy will help Republicans establish a solid foothold in the predominantly Democratic county.

However, judging by recent fundraising numbers, Hurtt argues the strategy is already working.

“Thanks to generous supporters like you, the Arlington GOP raised $14,831 from July 13th until midnight last night,” Hurtt told donors in an email last month. “The average contribution from more than 110 individual donations was $131, and the Committee took in an average of $823 per day over the 18-day period.”

Hurtt noted these numbers were “unprecedented” for the party which typically brings in a little less than half that number.

He emphasized the majority of these funds will be allocated towards “local issue education,” “voter targeting,” and “mobilization efforts,” aimed at aiding local Republican candidates, including Fierro, in their campaigns for state senate and county board positions.

“With the imminent approval by this Committee, we will invest in our candidates in ways we have not done in decades,” Hurtt told his donors.

Hurtt attributes the party’s robust fundraising quarter to members’ renewed confidence Republicans can make headway in future local elections by using this strategy.

“When I was chairman of Young Republicans, we helped elect John Vihstadt to the county board in 2014… We helped legalize food trucks and Airbnbs in Arlington. And so we have won on policy issues and we’ve built broad based coalitions,” Hurtt said. “But I’m trying to get my members to say, ‘you know it is worth my time to be involved in local issues.’”

Heading into November, Hurtt said the party aims to turn out voters who turned out for Gov. Glenn Youngkin. He drew national attention after beating out former Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe in 2021.

Hurtt is under no illusion that Arlington will swing from blue to red anytime soon. Nevertheless, he pointed out that Youngkin garnered 22.8% of the Arlington vote — 6 percentage points more than former President Donald Trump a year earlier.

Following his victory, Youngkin was applauded by national, state and local party leaders, including Hurtt, who praised his ability to energize white suburban voters by capitalizing on parents’ frustrations over Covid-induced school closures, as well as other cultural issues such as the teaching of race in schools and transgender rights.

By aligning with the Governor and focusing on issues such as education, Hurtt said he believes Fierro and other Republican candidates may have a better shot in upcoming and future elections.

However, he emphasized the need for the party to shift its focus from national politics and lean into hyper-local issues, such as the Missing Middle debate about allowing multifamily housing in single-family zoned neighborhoods, as well as crime, which police data indicates increased nearly 18% in 2023 over 2022 — issues he sees as “nonpartisan.”

“Given our proximity to D.C. people, my members are very interested in federal issues… They should be interested in those, but I tried to redirect a lot of their energy at the local level because we have hot-button local issues that don’t have partisan boundaries that can build non-partisan or bipartisan or trans-partisan coalitions,” Hurtt said.

Since his nomination in June, Fierro, the managing partner at Golden Eagle Capital Advisors and outspoken supporter of former President Donald Trump — evident from a now-deleted Twitter account — said he’s spent the past month campaigning on local issues, such as reducing taxes, addressing crime and providing affordable housing options to lower income families that he believes resonate across party lines.

But the political newcomer said he has also started engaging with the Hispanic community, which he argues is an underrepresented group in local politics.

“I think it’s time for the [County] Board to be diversified in reference to the [Hispanic] population in Arlington, which is between 16% and 18%, depending on what numbers you look at,” Fierro told ARLnow. “I think the Board should have a Hispanic, and I think it’s important to have different points of view.”

The County Board currently has one person representing the Hispanic community, Tannia Talento, who was appointed to finish out the term Katie Cristol vacated early. Jonathan Dromgoole, an immigrant from Mexico and Millennial renter, also ran for the Board as a Democrat in June but lost in the first round, gaining only 4% of the vote.

Before then, Democrat Walter Tejada served on the County Board from 2003 until 2015, advocating for diversity, affordable housing and issues affecting the Latino community.

So far Fierro, who immigrated to Northern Virginia from Ecuador in 1982, said he’s engaged with a handful of groups within the Hispanic community, including Salvadorans and Bolivians. He is currently in the “planning stages” of formulating specific policies that address the concerns of these communities.

As of now, his central campaign promise, if elected, is to revisit policies that expand affordable housing options for lower-income groups, including Hispanics.

“People that have regular jobs, they’re not making [$100,000] plus salaries. We need those people, so they keep working in the county and can afford to live here because if they go somewhere else, those taxes…go with them too,” he said.

As for national politics, Fierro demurred from discussing whether he supports Trump as the Republican nominee in the 2024 presidential election.

“This is a local election,” he said. “I am able to speak to you about any issues that this country has at this time. But I am focusing my campaign on local issues and what are the people of Arlington’s needs.”

While Fierro’s experience in business and service to the community through the Knights of Columbus Arlington Council 2473 were also factors in his nomination, Hurtt acknowledged Fierro’s deep ties to Arlington’s “immigrant communities” could be pivotal in expanding the party’s support base down the road.

“More than 15% of Arlingtonians are Hispanic, and [Fierro] has a real heart and real passion for communicating these issues to folks in that community,” Hurtt said.

Fierro will face off against Democratic candidates Maureen Coffey and Susan Cunningham and Independent Audrey Clement in November.

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