About a half-hour before polls closed Tuesday, D.C. Republican Party Chairman Ron Phillips said in a tweet that “DC Republican Party went all in” as they sought a Mara victory.
But as precinct tallies trickled in, it became apparent to Mara and GOP leaders that they had not only lost to Bonds but also lagged behind first-time candidate Elissa Silverman, who campaigned as a “progressive” Democrat.
On Wednesday morning, Phillips sent an e-mail to GOP supporters calling the election “probably the worst political night of my life.”
“There is just no way we can describe the total collapse of this campaign — well, at least for now,” Phillips wrote, promising to conduct a full postmortem of the returns to “learn from this disappointment.”
According to unofficial returns, Mara received 23 percent of the vote, compared with Silverman’s 27 percent and Bonds’s 32 percent. Absentee and provisional ballots will be counted in the coming days.
The Mara campaign strongly disputed the idea that it had “collapsed” and said the party had done little to help matters.
“Ron is not progressive GOP,” said Mara campaign manager Dan Hoicowitz, referring to Mara’s efforts to present himself as a moderate on social issues. “Ron sees the world through a partisan lens. He’s not able to reach across party lines.”
Shortly before the election, Hoicowitz said, Phillips unsuccessfully pressured Mara to sign a National Rifle Association pledge — a move that might have alienated swaths of voters in the District, which has strict gun-control laws.
Phillips acknowledged passing an NRA questionnaire on to the campaign but said it was a “great exaggeration” to say that he asked Mara to sign a pledge. “I don’t think I was pressuring Pat,” he said.
Phillips said Mara, 38, a business consultant who represents Ward 1 on the State Board of Education, was a great candidate for the party. But he said “tactical and structural problems” plagued Mara’s campaign: “Clearly something went wrong.”
Compounding the disappointment for the GOP, Mara fell far short even though political observers think that at least half of those voting Tuesday were white. About 40 percent more votes were cast in the four majority-white wards Tuesday than in the four majority-black wards, according to unofficial tallies.
National polling indicates that white voters and those with higher incomes are more likely to favor the Republican Party. In 2012, Washington Post-ABC News national polls found that among whites, 31 percent identify as Republicans and 25 percent identify as Democrats. Fifty-three percent of non-whites identify as Democrats vs. 8 percent as Republicans.