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What Happened to the Washington Post’s Election-Day Clout?

The Post could once make a local candidate's day. Not so much this year.
Photograph by Evy Mages.

In the days since the election, all sorts of media outlets have totted up the winners and losers of a day when Democrats took the House while seeing a host of future stars lose, and the GOP expanded their hold on the Senate while watching onetime Republican suburbs drift left. In a deep-blue area like the Washington region, there’s understandably been less of that sort of analysis of municipal election results. But there’s at least one formerly powerful political force that can be counted among the day’s local losers: The Washington Post‘s editorial page.

There was a time when the Post’s nod could make or break a local candidate, especially in the higher-rent parts of northwest and in suburbs whose well-educated residents were often newcomers without especially deep local-politics knowledge. Not this year. In a series of races that pitted progressives against centrists in DC and Montgomery County, the results made it seem that Washington was listening more closely to the Washington Teacher’s Union or Democratic Socialists of America than they did to the Post‘s editorial board. And while plenty of Post-endorsed incumbents did win, the paper’s endorsements in the lefties-vs-establishmentarians contests didn’t do so well. A sampling:

DC Council-At-Large

In the most contentious council race this election cycle, the Post‘s sole At-Large endorsement was for restaurant owner and community organizer Dionne Reeder. While incumbent Democrat Anita Bonds was likely to keep her seat, Reeder faced off with incumbent Elissa Silverman for the non-majority party seat. Backed by Mayor Muriel Bowser, Reeder highlighted her business experience and her long history in Washington throughout the campaign, criticizing Silverman for everything from being from Baltimore to the paid family leave law she spearheaded and the Post had opposed. (Reeder didn’t have a concrete alternative to the law). In endorsing Reeder, The Post‘s editorial said “her experience and sensibilities would bring needed balance to a legislative body that too often caters to the activists who pack council hearings and not to the businesses and residents who must foot the bills.” As for Silverman, they said they “don’t think her caustic treatment of people makes for good governing.” Silverman, who was endorsed by several unions, including the Washington Teacher’s Union, won by more than 20 points. That lead extended to Ward 3, historically the most Post-influenced in the city, where she won by exactly 20 points.

DC Council-Ward 3

The Post endorsed Independent challenger and former Fenty staffer Petar A. Dimtchev over incumbent Democrat Councilwoman Mary Cheh. Cheh is not a member of the Council’s loud progressive bloc, but the paper’s argument against her involved one place where she deviated from the recent centrist consensus: The editorial board took issue with what they saw as Cheh’s efforts to undermine mayoral control of education. They liked Dimtchev’s focus on “bread-and-butter issues such as fixing potholes, helping small businesses and reducing school overcrowding.” Cheh won by almost 50 points.

DC State Board of Education

While the District’s elected board of education has little power, these races brought in a lot in campaign contributions. In Ward 1, the Post endorsed banker and Achievement Prep Charter School board member Jason Andrean over DSA backed educator Emily Gasoi. The Post called Andrean “a longtime education advocate who has a keen understanding of issues facing charter and traditional schools.” Gasoi, touting her progressive vision, won by more than 20 points.

In Ward 3, the Post supported retired Spanish teacher Dora Currea over incumbent Ruth Wattenberg, who they called “a negative influence on the board, notably opposing the strict accountability standards of the system’s new STAR rating system.” Wattenberg won by 30 points.

Montgomery County Executive

In the race to replace outgoing County Executive Ike Legget, the Post’s editorial board endorsed Independent Nancy Floreen over Democrat Marc Elrich. A progressive voice backed by DSA, Elrich supports rent control and a countywide bus rapid transit system. The Post calls him “prone to bombast” and says Elrich is “Montgomery’s foremost opponent of business and growth for more than a decade,” who  “would imperil the county’s economic and fiscal prospects.” The Post‘s editorial board liked Floreen’s fiscal discipline, calling her a “tough-minded pragmatist.” Elrich won by 50 points.

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Adia H. Robinson
Editorial Fellow