The D.C. Republican Party is, fittingly, taking a conservative approach to this year’s elections.
The GOP’s 2006 mayoral candidate took just 6 percent of the vote, and two years ago, the party’s At-Large Council candidate took just 10 percent. So this year, the party is skipping citywide races, and is instead focusing on four ward-level Council races.
The candidates are, to borrow a phrase from Vice President Biden, “not your father's Republican Party.” Three of the four candidates are black; two are gay. All are running essentially moderate campaigns, focusing on the size of government, education reform, and the impact of de facto one-party rule on the city.
While all four face uphill fights against incumbent Democrats, the GOP’s best bet may be in wealthy Ward 3, where Dave Hedgepeth, a Cleveland Park attorney, is making his first bid for public office. Though he faces an intimidating incumbent in Mary Cheh, Hedgepeth sees a path to victory -- especially following the resignation of Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee earlier this week.
“It will certainly make things interesting,” Hedgepeth told me. “The full impact of the result of the September primary is clear, and has shaken up many in Ward 3 -- particularly people with kids in DCPS. If education wasn’t already the most important issue to voters when going to the polls, then it will be now.”
Though Cheh faced no primary opponent this year and won in 2006 with nearly 72 percent of the vote, Hedgepeth said her endorsement of Vincent Gray for mayor could hurt her.
“To this day most Ward 3 residents, including myself, simply do not understand her decision” to back Gray, he told me. “Unlike Ms. Cheh, most Ward 3 residents agreed that the District under Mayor Fenty was on the right track, particularly on education, and saw no reason to change.”
Indeed, Fenty took 79 percent of Ward 3’s vote in September’s Democratic primary, his best showing in the city.
Cheh has defended her endorsement, but wishes Rhee had decided to stay.
“I supported Vince Gray in the primary because I believed that, on balance, he would be better for the future of the city and Ward 3,” she told me. “I always supported Michelle Rhee and her efforts at reform and hope they continue. As for her resignation, I think it is deeply unfortunate.”
Hedgepeth says former Cheh supporters have been taking down their yard signs since the Gray endorsement, and that one resident told him Cheh “stabbed us in the back.” He said more than one voter has told him they have never voted Republican before, but plan to vote for him.
“She endorsed Gray, and I endorsed Fenty,” Hedgepeth said. “I looked at Fenty’s record of improving schools and making our city safer and decided that the past four years have been a big step in the right direction. Cheh looked at that same record and said, ‘So what?’”
Hedgepeth said he was “surprised by the timing” of Rhee’s resignation, but that it can only help his campaign. “To win I’ll need a sizable number of Democrats to cross party lines and vote for me,” he said. Though there are more registered Republicans in Ward 3 than in any other ward, Democrats still outnumber them by more than four to one.
“I think people are realizing that these local issues, like education and quality of life in Ward 3, are nonpartisan issues,” he said. “My platform is much more consistent with what Ward 3 wants.”
Follow P.J. Orvetti on Twitter at @PJOinDC