With the nation's capital long considered a political no-man's land for Republicans, District of Columbia GOP Chairman Ron Phillips said last week that his party would field a candidate for mayor after all.
The chances of actually capturing City Hall are slim, to say the least, in a city with 330,000 registered Democrats to only 30,000 Republicans and 80,000 independents.
But the decision by Phillips and other D.C. Republicans to recruit and run a candidate for mayor drew some national attention. By running a serious contender for mayor, some pundits and pols agree, Republicans can at least identify what kind of base they have in Washington and begin building an organization with fresh, young volunteers.
Phillips' announcement came two weeks after the primaries for mayor and City Council, in which no Republican filed to be on the ballot for the city's top office.
At the same time, city Democrats rejected incumbent Mayor Vincent Gray in favor of City Council member Muriel Bowser. Bowser's lone opponent in the November election until now has been Council member David Catania, a Republican-turned-independent and longtime leader in the city's gay community.
"When there is a vacancy on the ballot, the city's Republican Executive Committee has a right to put someone on the ballot," Phillips told Newsmax. "In effect, D.C. election law is giving us another shot at this and a chance to let the voters know the race is not over and done with after the Democratic primary."
Phillips said he has already been in touch with a Washington, D.C., attorney who is eager to run as a "reform Republican" for mayor. But he would not reveal the name pending a meeting of the Republican Executive Committee.
Privately, the small band of Republican activists in Washington, D.C., do not believe that their eventual nominee can win the mayoral race or even place second ahead of insurgent Catania.
But as Phillips put it, "We are giving voters a chance to express their outrage at corruption in the District and letting them know there is a loyal opposition. And that's something we desperately need here. One-party rule leads to greater corruption and corruption metastasizes."
He was referring to a string of Democratic-elected officials who have been brought down on corruption charges. Council member Kwame Brown and Michael Brown (no relation) were driven from office by revelations of using their respective offices to enhance their personal fortunes and those of supporters.
Most recently, testimony of Washington, D.C., "power broker" Jeffrey Thompson have clearly hurt Gray, and amid charges he has broken D.C. campaign finance laws, the mayor lost renomination. Whether Gray will be indicted or tried before he leaves office is the big question in Washington politics.
Phillips, an operative in Newt Gingrich's 2012 presidential bid, recalled the example of the former house speaker starting out as a youthful Republican in Georgia when the party in the Peach State was in the "proverbial telephone booth."
"Newt lost twice before winning his first term in Congress," recalled the D.C. Republican chairman, "but he also encouraged a lot of other young Republicans to challenge the Democratic hierarchy when that seemed impossible. And some of them won."
Phillips conceded that it would take years and several elections for Republicans to gain a foothold in Washington, D.C. As he put it, "we are not going to get a Mayor Rudy Giuliani [New York] or a Richard Riordan [Los Angeles] right off the bat. But we will get the beginning of checks and balances."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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