- The Washington Times - Monday, October 16, 2006

Republicans in the District might consider adopting the panda as their party’s mascot because, like the black-and-white zoo attraction, they’re an endangered species that people tend to stare at — just without the “oohs” and “ahs.”

In a city where Democrats outnumber them 9-to-1, Republicans have banded together in an organization that has emphasized the “party” of the Grand Old Party.

“It’s been run like a country club,” says Tony Williams, the Republican nominee for the Ward 6 seat on the D.C. Council. “It’s been run like a meeting circle for Republicans that live in the city and want to talk about it.”

But this election cycle has inspired them to end their garden party. Unlike in years past, when their lone viable candidate was D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz, this election they are offering what they consider to be serious candidates in four of the city’s eight races.

“I view this as the modern-day chapter of the Republican Party of D.C. I’m encouraged by what we see this election cycle,” says Robert Kabel, chairman of the D.C. Republican Party. “We do have a candidate for mayor, and we’re actually getting more publicity now than we have had in the past.

“The reward for those of us that are in the elected leadership of the party is that we’ve had some really quality candidates step up. They’re working hard and getting attention.”

Still, giant panda Tai Shan, who is scheduled to move to China next year, has a better chance of being elected the city’s official animal than any of the Republicans have of winning their races Nov. 7.

According to the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, registered Democrats number 285,483 and Republicans 30,339 in the city.

D.C. Council member Adrian M. Fenty, the Democratic nominee for mayor, already has begun assembling his Cabinet.

Mary M. Cheh, the Democratic nominee for the Ward 3 seat on the D.C. Council, received 6,462 votes in a nine-candidate primary last month. Her opponent — Theresa Conroy, the only Republican candidate for the seat — garnered 577 votes in her primary.

Mr. Williams, the Republican nominee for the Ward 6 seat, won his primary unopposed, with 376 votes. His Democratic rival — former school board member Tommy Wells, who won in a three-way primary — received 8,323 votes.

Local party leaders say Republicans are disliked because they are misunderstood — and linked to the national party.

“It’s frustrating because everyone assumes that you’re George W. Bush. In fact, they assume worse than that — they assume you’re Reverend [Jerry] Falwell or something,” Mr. Williams says. “This party has certain Republican values, but it is not a socially conservative party. But it gets attacked for socially conservative things.”

City Republicans say their platform focuses on economically conservative ideals,, but is largely silent on social issues, such as same-sex “marriage.”

They also say they focus on bipartisan issues, such as securing a vote for the District in Congress, which is a plank in the D.C. Democratic and Republican platforms.

Undaunted, Republicans leaders are soldiering on. They are focusing energy on the Ward 6 race, calling on volunteers to go door to door to rally residents’ support.

A fundraiser with Ken Mehlman, chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC), has been planned for late this month.

What’s more, D.C. Republicans have moved their headquarters from its spot in the RNC offices on Pennsylvania Avenue NW to a K Street storefront office, where they can be seen, Mr. Kabel says.

The next step, he says, is increasing Republican voter registration and outreach to minorities.

“The challenge for us and the future of the Republican Party is in the African-American and Latino communities,” Mr. Kabel says.

The District’s Republican Party is one of the oldest local Republican parties in the country.

Few Republicans have held citywide office. Two at-large seats on the D.C. Council are reserved for minority parties. Those seats are held by Mrs. Schwartz and David A. Catania, a Republican-turned-independent.

A Republican has never been D.C. mayor. The District’s second and last governor, Republican Alexander Robey “Boss” Shepherd, was ousted from his seat by Congress in 1873.


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