News & Politics

DC Republican Party Tries—and Fails—to Get a Foothold in the City Council

GOP voters decline to show for Patrick Mara, earning him a third-place finish in the special election.

Patrick Mara’s third-place finish in Tuesday’s election for an at-large city council seat, the
local Republicans proved that even when the forces aligned for the best chance in
decades to get a GOP candidate on the city council, they can’t make it happen. Mara
and party leaders tried. They failed to get their voters to the polls. They lost.

Mara is a seasoned local politician. He has run for council twice before. He has good
name recognition. He ran for and won the Ward 1 seat on the school board. He also
had a plethora of endorsements. The
Washington Post editorial board wrote four positive pieces, practically begging residents to elect
Mara. The
Northwest Current and the
Examiner followed with endorsements. The Sierra Club jumped aboard, along with the DC Chamber
of Commerce. An independent business group polled and advertised for Mara.

The nature of the election provided a rare opening for a Republican candidate. Because
it was a special election, held to fill the vacancy when
Phil Mendelson moved up to chair, it leapfrogged the primary that would have ended in a general
election. That made it a beauty contest in which Republicans, Democrats, and Statehood
candidates could compete on a level playing field. And because it was a special election
not tied to a mayoral or presidential race, relatively few voters were expected to
show, which meant that a small number of focused voters could win the day.

Being a seasoned candidate, Mara knew how to raise cash and focus his troops. He targeted
his likely voters. The DC Republican Party has new leadership under chair
Ron Phillips. He was able to attract $25,000 from the Republican National Committee. Phillips
also recorded a phone message from New Jersey governor
Chris Christie urging Republicans to vote for Mara, which went out Friday.

Mara stayed on message: ethically pure, fiscally conservative, socially progressive.
DC voters didn’t buy it, and Republicans failed to support him.

Republicans are rare in DC, perhaps the most blue city in the nation. Democrats outnumber
Republicans by ten to one. Every Republican is a long shot. But Mara was the best

Carol Schwartz was the Republican everyone loved. She went from school board to city council to
a pair of mayoral runs. Mara beat her in 2008 in a bitter primary.
David Catania first ran as a Republican but became an Independent.

Perhaps the local Republicans have emerged from their Georgetown cave, where they
roped themselves off for decades. Ron Phillips is trying desperately to balance the
party on racial lines and spread it citywide. In any political system, two parties
make for competition and better candidates. DC might be a one-party town for good,
as it has been forever.

Phillips sounded both sad and perplexed. He says he’ll take a few weeks to study “issues”
within the local Republican base.

“I want to see what’s wrong and fix it,” he says. “We’ll be back in 2014.”

But after Mara’s third-place finish—behind winner
Anita Bonds and
Elissa Silverman, both Democrats—2014 might be a lost cause.