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Young political activists in Arlington prepare for potential Trump-Biden rematch

Victoria Churchill speaks at an Arlington-Falls Church Young Republicans event (courtesy of Victoria Churchill)

Young Arlington politicos across the partisan divide are closely watching Donald Trump’s presidential bid and its potential effect on voter turnout this cycle.

Whereas Arlington Young Democrats (AYD) is using the prospect of a second Trump presidency to mobilize the party’s base, Arlington-Falls Church Young Republicans (AFCYR) is threading the needle of supporting the likely GOP frontrunner without estranging members of their party.

“We were not a club that went out and endorsed [Trump] fully from the get-go. But we also weren’t a group that went out and said, ‘You know what, you shouldn’t be running again,’ because we knew that we had a wide breadth of beliefs within our club, and so we didn’t also want to kind of alienate people,” AFCYR Chair Victoria Churchill tells ARLnow.

Bylaws for both political groups explicitly forbid them from officially endorsing any candidate in contested primary elections.

Despite this, Churchill and her counterpart, Bryant Atkins, the president of the AYD, are gearing up for a seemingly inevitable rematch between former President Trump and the current incumbent, Joe Biden.

Considering Arlington County and Northern Virginia’s strong blue leanings, Atkins is optimistic about mobilizing local Democrats in November.

Since the 2016 presidential election, people ages 18-29 have turned out in record numbers, especially for Democrats, in federal and statewide elections, including Virginia.

Atkins says national issues such as climate change and reproductive rights played a major role in last year’s election, helping Democrats maintain their state Senate majority and reclaim the House of Delegates.

But some national polls indicate younger voters are souring on Biden, which Churchill is hoping to capitalize on.

“I think if you voted for Joe Biden four years ago, and you’re in a worse off place today, you’re not going to make the same mistake twice,” she said.

Victoria Churchill (courtesy photo)

Since 2021, Churchill claims, economic issues such as rising housing costs and the return of student loan payments have made many young people in Arlington and the surrounding region cynical about the Biden administration.

“And so honestly, things like housing I think are kind of animating a lot of people to go out and vote again, be involved,” she said. “I think for people as they’re looking to make those kind of long term investments in their life, like they’re figuring out that it’s a lot harder than it has been.”

Churchill is not under the illusion that Arlington, a longtime Democratic stronghold, will suddenly turn red overnight. However, she sees an opportunity for Republicans, especially Trump supporters, to get better at creating broader coalitions within the party and among marginal groups.

“If we want to ensure our survival and [make] sure that we’re a successful organization for the next decade-plus, we want to make sure that we have people from all walks of life, all backgrounds,” she said.

Churchill, who supported Trump’s nomination while working with the Iowa Republican Party in 2020, did not comment on the extent of loyalty towards the GOP frontrunner among young Arlington Republicans. She pledged, however, that her organization would unite behind whoever becomes the nominee.

“At the end of the day, we’re going to support the one that’s got the ‘R’ next to their name, even though that support, again, definitely varies from person to person,” she said.

While Atkins is hoping the prospect of another four-year Trump term will energize his party’s base, he also recognizes the risk that if enough young voters and Democrats don’t turn out vote, Republicans could make substantial gains as they did in the 2021 gubernatorial election.

Bryant Atkins (courtesy photo)

“I will say that as a party, we are definitely focusing on turning out voters and reminding them of the Trump years,” he said. “In 2016, we thought we had this in the bag and it was going to be easy, but then we recognized that we have to work every day to talk to our voters and remind them of the successes that we’ve had with the Biden administration so far, and remind them that Trump is a threat to democracy and a threat to clawing back on the progress that we’ve made over the past three years.”

Republicans secured the Virginia governor’s mansion and House of Delegates in 2021 because they turned out their base in greater numbers than Democrats, contended Alan Abramowitz, a political science professor and author at Emory University, in a post-election recap article for the University of Virginia Center for Politics. He also pointed out that young people who showed up to the polls in 2021 leaned more Republican compared to 2020.

But, at least in Arlington, voter turnout has been rebounding in recent years in favor of Democrats.

In the event of a Trump-Biden rematch, Atkins notes that his organization aims to steer the dialogue towards Trump’s policies and underscore Biden’s political wins, including the passage of the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, investments in clean energy tax credits and enabling Medicare to negotiate prescription drug costs.

“In the last general election for Virginia, our talking points focused on individual freedoms and the protection of democracy,” Atkins said. “That really struck a lot of voters when we’re talking to them, and I believe that will be an effective message going into 2024.”

Despite setbacks in New Hampshire and Iowa, Republican presidential contender Nikki Haley is still charging forward with her campaign and may challenge Trump in the upcoming Virginia primaries set for March 5.

Trump is still currently leading in several national polls and at least one by Roanoke College specifically focused on Virginia has him leading Haley by 37 points.

However, Trump still faces a series of legal challenges, including an upcoming trial for alleged election interference that’s set for March 4 which may face delays. Additionally, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule next month on whether Trump’s alleged attempts to overturn the 2020 election on Jan. 6, 2021 could disqualify him from appearing on future ballots.

Earlier this month, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit aiming to remove Trump from the Virginia primary ballot, after the Colorado Supreme Court and Maine’s Secretary of State decided to exclude the former president from their respective state ballots.

As of today (Wednesday), several polls indicate Biden holds a narrow lead over Trump in Virginia, which has leaned Democratic in the last four presidential elections.

Still, Atkins says Arlington’s young Democrats are not taking any vote for granted.

“I will say I’m cautiously optimistic,” he said.

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