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Republicans field 4 candidates in targeted D.C. Council race

By Tim Craig
Washington Post staff writer
Thursday, March 18, 2010; B01

District Republicans will field a full slate of candidates for the D.C. Council ward seats in this year's election but do not plan to run in the mayoral and at-large council races because they say they are generally satisfied with Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's priorities and doubt their party can win citywide.

Instead of taking on Fenty (D) in a city where Democrats hold an 8 to 1 registration advantage, GOP leaders plan to run candidates in Wards 1, 3, 5 and 6. It will be the first time in memory that the party has competed in four district-based seats in the same year.

The GOP candidates, emboldened by rising party fortunes across the country, plan to challenge incumbents over taxes, education and crime while showcasing the diversity within the D.C. Republican Party.

In an unusual demographic mix for a GOP ticket locally or nationally, three of the four council candidates are black. Two of the party's African American candidates are also gay.

Republican leaders hope the diversity of the ticket will cause liberal-minded D.C. voters to give their candidates a second look, especially when the debate shifts away from national politics toward a discussion of how to improve residents' quality of life.

"I think they would see I am not like any Republican out there," said Marc Morgan, 37, a gay black Republican who plans to run in Ward 1, which includes Adams Morgan and Columbia Heights. "I am extremely moderate. I am a pro-environment Republican."

Morgan, who worked for Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele when Steele headed the Maryland party, will face council member Jim Graham (D) if the incumbent, who is also gay, wins the Democratic primary.

In Ward 3 in Upper Northwest, David Hedgepeth of the Van Ness area is running against incumbent Mary M. Cheh (D). Hedgepeth, who is black, is a lawyer who focuses on litigation issues.

Timothy Day, a gay African American, said he plans to be the GOP candidate in Ward 5 in Northeast. He will face incumbent Harry Thomas (D) if Thomas win his primary.

Jim DeMartino, a military consultant for the Department of the Navy, is so far the sole white candidate on the GOP ticket. DeMartino, who hopes to improve the city's business climate, is challenging council member Tommy Wells (D) in Ward 6, which centers on Capitol Hill.

"This will be the first time we have so many people running exposing the council's record," said Paul Craney, executive director of the D.C. Republican Committee. "There are a lot of unhappy Democrats, so if there is a good candidate, I believe we can create a base constituency."

But the four candidates face long odds in trying to break the Democrats' grip on city government.

Since home rule was established in 1973, no Republican has been elected to the council in a ward race. But three Republicans have been elected at-large, including member David A. Catania (I-At Large), who left the GOP in 2004 over the national party's position on gay rights.

No Republicans sit on the council, even though the city charter reserves one seat for a member of the minority party. That seat is held by Michael A. Brown, a former Democrat who switched his registration to independent so he could run for the minority slot.

Craney said the GOP has no plans to field a candidate against Fenty or Catania, who is also up for reelection this year. The mayor is expected to face a challenge in the Democratic primary.

Craney said many local Republicans and independents like Catania, despite his decision to leave the GOP. And Craney said many also strongly approve of Fenty's efforts to improve education and fight crime and have high regard for Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee and Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier.

With limited resources, Craney said it probably wouldn't pay for a GOP candidate to run against Fenty, who has a $4 million campaign war chest. "It's a different kind of campaign running citywide than focusing on a city ward," Craney said. "When you go down into these ward races, you are talking about 10,000 to 12,000 votes."

By avoiding a citywide general-election showdown, Craney said, the GOP candidates think they can make inroads in their neighborhoods and win over enough voters to succeed.

In the 2006 general election, for example, only 17,000 people voted in Ward 6. The Republicans say they can better compete in a smaller pool of voters in races traditionally decided on neighborhood issues.

"I will be letting them know what people perceive about Republicans is not really the case," said Day, who is an Advisory Neighborhood Commission member. "I will be letting them know someone who is a little bit more conservative can truly make a longer-term impact."

Based on voter registration and the demographics in each ward, Hedgepeth and DeMartino could emerge as the strongest GOP contenders in the general election. But even in Ward 3, which includes the least-Democratic neighborhoods in the city, Democrats hold a voter registration advantage of about 3 to 1.

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