- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 12, 2006

D.C. Republicans failed to play the spoiler in the elections last week, but party leaders said they are encouraged because their candidates at least put up a fight.

“We had some competitive candidates this time, even though they obviously didn’t win,” said Bob Kabel, chairman of the D.C. Republican Committee. “I really think all of our candidates ran competent, issue-oriented campaigns. I feel good about each and every one of them.”

Democrats in the District outnumber Republicans 9-to-1. But voter turnout in the District was a mere 29 percent for the general elections, according to unofficial results, which do not include absentee and provisional ballots.

Such numbers and several Republican candidates putting up aggressive fights this year are possible signs of progress for D.C. Republicans.

“I really think this was a turning-point election for the D.C. Republican Party,” Mr. Kabel said. “Frankly, we’re in a party-building mode, and we all understand that.”

In Ward 3, where Republicans ran one of their strongest candidates, voter turnout appeared to be lower than in 2002, but the number of residents voting Republican appeared to increase.

Prep school teacher Theresa Conroy received 28 percent of the vote against Democrat candidate Mary M. Cheh, a law professor at George Washington University.

Mrs. Conroy’s campaign was buoyed by Ward 3 Democrats who crossed party lines because of Mrs. Cheh’s support for development plans in Northwest neighborhoods.

Mrs. Conroy raised more than $31,600 and received about 400 more votes than the 2002 Republican candidate, Eric Rojo.

“I thought it was very heartening that many Democrats crossed party lines to vote for me,” said Mrs. Conroy, 54. “Many of the Democrats did say ‘I’ve never voted for a Republican in my life.’ ”

In Ward 6, Republican candidate Tony Williams earned 10 percent of the vote. Mr. Williams, the son of political analyst Juan Williams, lost in a landslide to Democrat Tommy Wells, but was caught in a “buzz saw” between Mr. Wells and independent candidate Will Cobb, Mr. Kabel said.

Mr. Williams said the small percentage of votes he earned still represented a victory for Republicans in the tightknit Ward 6, which includes Capitol Hill and sections of Southeast.

“It shows there’s a group of people out there who are hungry for a different message, and they’re hungry for change,” Mr. Williams said. “It’s up to the Republican Party now to grow and start to reach out to those folks.”

Mr. Williams, 26, earned the endorsement of the District’s Afro-American newspaper and campaigned throughout the city in what he called a party-building exercise.

“I’ve given the Republican Party a new face here in the District and shown folks that the Republican Party actually can speak to people’s needs,” said Mr. Williams, who is black.

The District’s Republican Party is one of the oldest local Republican parties in the country. But the group has had only a few viable candidates in the past, including current at-large council member Carol Schwartz, who received 34 percent of the vote in her 2002 run for mayor against Anthony A. Williams, a Democrat.

This year, the Republican Party also had candidates in three other races. Marcus Skelton, 26, earned 4.4 percent of the vote in his bid for an at-large seat on the council, and Nelson Rimensnyder, 63, received 9 percent in the race for shadow U.S. representative.

David W. Kranich, 34, earned 6 percent of the vote in the mayoral race, an election won handily by Ward 4 council member Adrian M. Fenty, a Democrat.

Mr. Kabel plans to meet with his candidates in the coming weeks to discuss their future with the party.

He said there may be Republicans running for the council next year, when the District will hold special elections to fill the seats vacated by Mr. Fenty and Vincent C. Gray, the Ward 7 member who was elected council chairman.

Meanwhile, D.C. Republicans will hold out hope for the future, when perhaps a Republican will win a ward seat on the City Council.

“The party has fallen by the wayside and not really connected with its folks and mobilizing them,” Mr. Williams said. “I think that’s the real challenge.”

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