Local Republicans optimistic despite low presidential turnout

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Local Republicans optimistic despite low presidential turnout
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By Erich Wagner (File photo)

Alexandria Republicans were hopeful this week about the prospect of a Donald Trump presidency, despite a local vote total that was significantly lower than Mitt Romney’s in 2012. But Democrats took a less rosy view of the new balance of power.

Trump won the presidency last week with 290 Electoral College votes as of Wednesday. But in Virginia, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton won with 49.8 percent of the vote statewide, bolstered by a strong victory in Alexandria.

As of Tuesday, Clinton led in the city with 75.6 percent of ballots cast, compared with only 17.5 percent of Alexandrians voting for Trump. The numbers provided some sol- ace for local Democrats, who saw their numbers swell over the 2012 presidential election, when President Barack Obama received 71 percent of the vote.

Starker than the increase in Democratic turnout was the fall in Republican voter turnout in the presidential race. Trump’s 17.5 percent of the vote represents a drop of 10 full percentage points from Romney’s tally of 27.5 percent in 2012, while more than 4,000 more people in Alexandria voted for Republican District 8 congressional candidate Charles Hernick than for Trump.

Sean Lenehan, chairman of the Alexandria Republican City Committee, said his group was still digesting the results of the election locally, but noted that there was a contingent of the so-called “Never Trump” movement — Republicans for whom the nominee was an unacceptable candidate — among the local party’s active members that could explain the turnout differential.

“Even in the primary, Trump came in fourth in Alexandria,” Lenehan said. “Since that time, a lot of Republican support has slowly solidified and rallied be- hind the candidate.

“And while historically, Alexandria relative to the Democrats sees lower Republican participation, we crunched the numbers, and support for the Republican congressional candidate was in line with what we were hoping. So that gives us hope and we’re excited about that.”

Lenehan said he supported Trump since relatively early in the Republican primary campaign. He said he values Trump’s insight as a business leader, and hopes he brings a business-focused mentality to government.

“His focus revolved around nationalism vs. a globalist perspective, helping American businesses, helping level the playing field on different trade agreements and helping our schools,” Lenehan said.

Former Republican City Councilor Frank Fannon said although support for Trump was low in Alexandria, he believes the real estate tycoon’s appeal came from what he described as an “issue-based campaign.” Fannon declined to say for whom he voted.

“What happened here nationally is a lot of people voted for the message as opposed to the man and held their noses,” he said. “People wanted a conservative Supreme Court, secure borders, the rule of law, economic opportunities for everyone and lower taxes.

“As for low local turnout, a lot of Alexandrians were really turned off by the personal flaws and his comments were personally very offensive to a lot of people.”

On the Democratic side, Alexandria Democratic Committee chairman Clarence Tong was heartened by the local enthusiasm for Clinton, who saw an increase of about 5,000 votes over the city’s total for Obama in 2012. Although the national result was shocking, Tong said he and other Virginia Democrats are eager to defend the party’s values.

“I think that it is very unfortunate that Trump was elected based on the type of campaign he ran, a very divisive one and not based in concrete policy ideas, and there’s a lot of uncertainty in that transition,” Tong said. “But what I would say is we have a very strong government in Virginia, led by our governor, Terry McAuliffe, and other Democratic statewide officials, not to mention a mayor and city council that is Democratic. So we’re definitely going to be fighting for our values.”

Other local activists are steeling themselves for some of Trump’s more controversial policy proposals to be enacted. Jon Liss, who serves as executive director for progressive advocacy group New Virginia Majority as well as for Tenants and Workers United, a group that advocates and provides support for Northern Virginia’s working poor and immigrant community, said he has received numerous calls from residents frightened by the prospect of mass deportations.

In an interview with CBS’ “60 Minutes,” Trump said he plans to immediately deport between 2 million and 3 million undocumented immigrants “who have criminal records.”

“There are a lot of well-founded fears, and people are deeply troubled and concerned about what it means for their physical safety and life here in Alexandria — we’ve had people coming in all week,” Liss said.

Liss said his group will host a series of community meetings across Northern Virginia to let people air their fears and try to come up with an action plan to support them.

“What can we do to provide support?” Liss asked. “Can we provide legal aid, how would protests and solidarity work if there are massive immigration sweeps? I don’t have the answer yet, but those are the questions we’re asking.”

In the wake of a number of reports across the country of hateful speech, graffiti and bullying in schools and universities, the Alexandria City School Board released a letter Sunday reaffirming principles of “inclusiveness and equity” and highlighting existing non-discrimination and anti-harassment policies.

“Given some of the national stories of different communities having different reactions recently, we thought it was a good idea to set a tone reaffirming our values, making sure we’re expressing our value of diversity and unity in our school system,” said school board chairwoman Karen Graf in an interview.

“It’s quite simple. Any time something happens around the world or around the nation that concerns all of us, it’s the responsibility of leaders to re-establish those values. There was no particular incident here, but how can we do something that’s thoughtful and reassuring for our public and the families we serve?”

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