Some party members are hoping that the resignation last week of Arlington County GOP Committee Chairman Jade West will bring a much-needed boost to the county's troubled party.
The reason: West, 32, a conservative who has identified herself with the New Right breed of Republican politicians, has been viewed by many as a symbol of the Arlington GOP's failure to attract support from the liberal and moderate wings of the party.
West, critics say, has done little to bring the county GOP into step with a jurisdiction that has consistently voted for moderates and liberals over the past decade.
Instead, her three-year tenure as committee chairman has seen local Republicans locked in a tug of war between conservatives and moderates that was blamed by many last fall for the surprise upset of County Board Chairman Stephen H. Detwiler, one of the party's most promising young prospects.
"The two sides don't trust each other and won't go all out to work for the people on the other side," said one longtime Republican. "It seems to me you've got to provide what people want, and if they want a more moderate type, as they've consistently shown in the past, you've got to give them that."
During West's term as chairman, the Arlington GOP lost its majority on the County Board after the defeat of three Republican candidates. Last year, the GOP was able to field only one candidate for the state House of Delegates and that candidate lost. Three GOP candidates for the county's House seats were also defeated in 1981.
West, who is employed as staff director of the conservative Senate Steering Committee, said fear of further election losses did not enter into her decision to resign last week. She said she stepped down because she did not have enough time to juggle her party post, her job and a position on the county Planning Commission.
"I've been active in politics most of my life. You lose some, you win some, and you go on to fight the next war," she said. "I've been active too long to quit because we lost a few elections."
West, like many in the county's GOP organization, contends that Republicans always face an uphill battle in Arlington because the county's electorate is dominated by "Roosevelt Democrats" who moved in during Arlington's World War II building boom. Arlingtonian Robert Bocek, the new 10th District Republican Committee chairman, says that lopsided political profile partly explains the difficulty the party had in fielding candidates for the House of Delegates races last fall.
"We tried to talk people into running, but it didn't work," Bocek said. "If people look at their electability in terms of recent past elections, they're very reluctant to put themselves forward as candidates ."
Still, moderates point out that Republican candidates have shown considerable strength in Arlington when they organize their forces. Among Republicans who have carried the county in the last decade are President Reagan, former Virginia Attorney General J. Marshall Coleman and county Treasurer Bennie Fletcher.
Republican-backed independents also have scored significant victories. Board members Walter L. Frankland Jr. and Dorothy Grotos have each been elected to two terms on the board and are up for reelection this year. Commonwealth's Attorney Henry Hudson, elected overwhelmingly four years ago, is widely favored to win his reelection race this year.
Unfortunately, say the moderates, ideological factionalism within the GOP has strangled efforts to build a strong local party organization--that loosely knit band of door-to-door canvassers, leaflet carriers and other stalwarts vital to the success of local candidates. Last fall, for example, the Arlington GOP had to recruit volunteers from Alexandria to campaign for Detwiler and the rest of the Republican ticket.
"Typically, the Arlington party has been interested in state and national races, and has kind of written off local races," said Detwiler, who has not ruled out another try for county office. "What I feel is desperately needed within the county party structure is an ongoing commitment to work to build a viable party that doesn't just rally itself around an individual candidate during election season. The party pretty much closes up shop after election now."