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D.C. GOP in Unfamiliar Territory: A Competitive Race

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Mara, a D.C. Council at-large candidate, talks with Joan Murphy of Glover Park outside of the Safeway in Tenleytown.

Washington, D.C., Republicans are finding themselves in unfamiliar territory: They’re being targeted for get-out-the-vote efforts in a competitive election in the nation’s capital.

And as the District votes in Tuesday’s special election for an at-large Council seat, Capitol Hill Republican staffers are being asked to vote for someone who used to be in their shoes: Patrick Mara, a member of the D.C. State Board of Education who once worked for the late Sen. John H. Chafee, R-R.I.

Since becoming chairman of the D.C. Republican Party late last year, Ron Phillips has been doing education and outreach among what he calls the “young professional” community of Capitol Hill.

And he’s already seeing results. He still needs to do a final analysis, he said, but in receiving requests for absentee ballots from D.C. Republican voters who didn’t want to bother getting to the polls on Election Day, “a huge number of them came out of Ward 6, and the areas surrounding Capitol Hill.”

“We’re trying to make an effort to tell them, ‘You live in D.C., you’re paying D.C. taxes, you might as well vote in D.C.,’” Phillips said. “And for a lot of staffers who are registered in the District, they are focused on their bosses, so they’re not following District politics very closely.”

To that end, some 10,000 registered Republican voters in Washington, D.C., answered their phones last week to be greeted by a familiar, if totally unexpected, voice.

“Hello, this is Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey,” said the voice on the other end of the line. “I am calling today in support of Patrick Mara, the only Republican candidate running in next Tuesday’s special election for D.C. Council.”

Because voter turnout tends to be small in special elections, Mara’s supporters know that every Republican vote in a sea of Democratically cast ballots counts, especially as they see their candidate’s chances for victory tantalizingly within reach.

Mara faces five candidates for the seat, including Democrat Anita Bonds, who was appointed to the seat on an interim basis after its previous occupant, Democratic Councilman Phil Mendelson, became council chairman. Part of the reason Mara has an opening is that Bonds might split many votes with three other Democrats, Elissa Silverman, Matt Frumin and Paul Zukerberg. A sixth candidate, Perry Redd, is running as a candidate of the D.C. Statehood Green Party.

Mara has faced scrutiny from D.C. campaign finance officials for reports that he agreed to raise money for a think tank from a previous campaign donor list of his in exchange for a fee.

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