On his way to a luncheon with the Arlington Optimists Club, County Board member Mike Lane (R) reflected on his loss in Tuesday's election.

"Clearly, we've arrived," Lane said of the county's GOP. "We've demonstrated that we're a credible political force in Arlington."

Look at the facts, Lane said. In a four-way race for two seats, he came in first in eight precincts, a very respectable showing for an Arlington Republican. He bettered the man seen as his immediate opponent, winner Charles P. Monroe (D), in 18 of 43 precincts. And with more than 37,000 voters going to the polls, he lost by only 752 votes.

Usually, Lane said, Republicans come in far behind, as fourth-place finisher Frances M. Finta did Tuesday.

But Board Chairman Paul F. Ferguson (D), the other victor in the race, read the tea leaves differently.

"Mike was an incumbent who worked very hard, who had raised a lot of money," he said. "If Republicans didn't win this year, it's hard to conceive of them winning in future years."

Regardless of the statewide trend, the county remains less than friendly ground for the GOP. Only once in Arlington's history has a Republican nominee for the five-member County Board been reelected, and that was in 1969, according to Scott McGeary, chairman of the county's electoral board. All the state legislators are Democrats, as are the county's five constitutional officers, all of whom ran unopposed. No single Republican challenger in Arlington's state races garnered more than 37 percent of the vote Tuesday.

Lane won a special election in April to fill the seat of Albert C. Eisenberg by defeating Monroe, an African American who sought to bring diversity of experience to the all-white board. Lane beat Monroe then in part by capitalizing on a "monopoly board" theme, arguing that the county needed a two-party system.

Even if that message was lost in the County Board race, a watered-down version of it fared better in the School Board race. David M. Foster, an independent widely perceived as a Republican, beat Democrat-endorsed Sharon E. Davis for the lone open seat. Foster will be the only School Board member who was not endorsed by the Democratic Party.

Some Democrats and Foster attribute his win, in part, to his careful avoidance of the Republican label.

"Particularly in a School Board race, voters are open-minded and don't particularly like partisan politics governing it," he said. Steering clear of political endorsements "was my whole point."

County Board member Barbara Favola (D) phrased it more strongly.

"Dave ran as an independent and did not ask for [the Republicans'] endorsement," she said. "So he sort of ran from them. That enabled a fair number of Democrats in good conscience to switch over. There really is not a shift in the tide in Arlington. And until the Republicans figure out that the community is progressive, that it cares about the environment, education and managed growth, Republicans are not going to win."

Monroe is only the second member of a minority group ever to serve on the board, according to McGeary. William T. Newman Jr., now a Circuit Court judge in the county, was the board's first minority member, serving from 1987 to 1993.