GOP officials are trying to figure out why they fared so poorly in a special election for city council in the District of Columbia on Tuesday when many signs pointed to a victory for the Republican candidate, even in a city known as a bastion of liberalism.
Centrist Republican hopeful Patrick Mara not only lost the race but came in third behind two of the three Democrats he was facing on the ballot. Democrat Anita Bonds topped the field with 32 percent of the vote, followed by fellow Democrat Elissa Silverman, with 28 percent, and Mara, at 23 percent.
Local GOP operatives were startled at the way the race turned out, considering that Mara got support from national party officials and the rules for the special election gave a boost to the Republican.
“I didn’t jump off the Memorial Bridge last night,” D.C. Republican Chairman Ron Phillips told me Wednesday, once all the results were in. “But I did turn to my wife when we woke up and asked her if she had the same nightmare I did last night.”
Although Republicans rarely have electoral success in a city where Democratic registered voters outnumber Republicans by a margin of 9-to-1, the rules for special elections gave Republicans a great deal of hope for a victory in the council race.
In a special election to fill a vacancy on the 13-member council, all candidates, regardless of party, compete on the same ballot and the top vote-getter wins, even with less than a majority.
Mara, an elected member of the city’s school board, was the only Republican running in a field that included three Democrats and candidates of the Statehood and Green parties.
National Republican figures did the math and smelled a win. The Republican National Committee weighed in with $40,000 for the GOP contender and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie did a robocall urging voters to support Mara as a fellow “reformer.”
A self-styled “fiscal conservative and social liberal,” Mara backed D.C. statehood, favored school vouchers and charter schools, supported gay marriage, and wanted a strong code of ethics in a city government riddled by corruption.
Noting that Mara has been endorsed by The Washington Post in this race and in three previous races for office, Phillips said, tongue-in-cheek, “That’s the most times the Post has endorsed any Republican for anything since Abraham Lincoln.”
“But Democrats here publicized the fact Patrick had made large donations to John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012,” Phillips said. “In a city that gave more than 90 percent of its votes to Barack Obama both times, that is code for ‘he’s against Obama.’”
Phillips pointed out that when Mara lost a special election for the council in 2011 by a narrow margin, he drew more than 10,000 votes, compared to only 4,000 on Tuesday.
“If Patrick got the votes he did two years ago, he would have won easily,” said the party chairman. “But something is wrong with our base here, as small as it is. I’m going to spend every waking hour trying to find out what it is.”
Other Republicans have suggested that disagreements between Phillips and other party leaders kept the GOP from forging a united front to elect Mara.
Personal clashes and internecine warfare are no strangers to the Republican Party, as internal tussles have cost Republicans dearly in much more simpatico turf.
In San Diego last year, the GOP lost the mayoralty that has long been in its hands because some Republicans wouldn’t embrace libertarian GOP nominee Carl DeMaio.
In historically Republican Oakland County, Mich., the GOP now holds only two countywide offices — in large part, area sources say — because party factions fight with one another more than Democrats.
Perhaps the best lesson from Patrick Mara’s loss in Washington, D.C., could be an admonition for Republicans everywhere: Before they begin waging races against the Democrats, they might consider getting along with each other first.
John Gizzi is a special columnist for Newsmax.com.
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