While Republicans in Richmond are congratulating themselves for taking control of the Virginia legislature, recrimination is the order of the day in Fairfax County, where members of the GOP are pointing fingers at each other and wondering what went wrong.
Republican candidates for local office were trounced Tuesday in several key races, including the nasty battle for sheriff and the reelection bid of two-term supervisor Robert B. Dix Jr. (Hunter Mill). Two Republican candidates who challenged Democratic supervisors lost by large margins.
R. M. "Bob" Jones, who lost his bid to oust Democrat T. Dana Kauffman (Lee) by a nearly 2-to-1 ratio, blames a badly organized Republican Party for abandoning candidates after recruiting them to run.
"I was hung out to dry by the party," said Jones, a home builder. "I was recruited to do this, and then I got no support from the party. None. It was kind of a lackadaisical effort."
In a county that typifies the wealthy American suburb--the kind of place Republicans are famous for dominating--it is the Democrats who have an iron grip on power. With one exception, Democrats won every countywide office Tuesday and held their majorities on the County Board of Supervisors and the School Board.
With control of the Board of Supervisors certain for four years, Democrats will redraw the county's political map after the 2000 census. That could enshrine them in the majority throughout the next decade.
All of which has Republicans plenty worried.
"The Republican Party has done a poor job of recruiting and grooming candidates for School Board and the Board of Supervisors," said state Del. Jeannemarie Devolites (R-Fairfax), who was reelected Tuesday to a second term.
Devolites said she and several other top GOP officials this week discussed the future of the party, including how to bounce back from what she conceded was a terrible showing in Fairfax for the GOP.
"We need to build our team back up," she said.
But she and other Republicans cautioned against writing off the Fairfax Republican Party. Taken together, the GOP losses have little in common, she and others said.
"It's difficult for any broad, sweeping generalization to be made about things we did wrong," said Christopher Bright, a GOP consultant who worked on Dix's campaign.
Joseph Underwood, the party's county committee chairman, hinted that blame for Tuesday's losses belongs to the individual candidates themselves.
"We did everything we could possibly have done to put these candidates in a position to win," he said. "There's nothing that we could have done more or better."
But others have said Underwood himself is the problem.
Jones said Underwood lacked enthusiasm about his race against Kauffman and was not "a player at all, one way or another." And some GOP leaders have said privately that it's time for Underwood to step down. One official, who asked not to be named, predicted the county Republican Party will look for a new leader soon.
Underwood said he hasn't heard that talk.
"Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you come up with a bad result," he said. "If anybody has any suggestions on how we can further strengthen the party, I'm totally open to that."
Meanwhile, others are saying that U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, a former supervisor who contributed to Fairfax Republican candidates, should bear some blame.
Democrats are quick to say that Davis's reputation for electoral magic has been tarnished.
"While Tom Davis attempts to keep the aura of winning, the truth of the matter is that he didn't have a very good track record," said state Del. Kenneth R. Plum (D-Fairfax), who won reelection in the Reston area Tuesday.
But even some Republicans concede that Davis was not as successful as they thought he would be.
"Tom is a key part of the party," said Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully). "Some things he was involved with didn't turn out well. To the extent that there's blame or credit, I suppose Tom gets a little bit of it."
In an interview, Davis credited Dix's opponent, Democrat Catherine M. Hudgins, with outworking Dix in the campaign, and said the responsibility for the election's outcome ultimately lies with each of the GOP candidates and those who ran their campaigns.
Although Davis gave money to Fairfax races, he said that his real focus was on getting control of the legislature because that could benefit the national GOP when congressional districts are redrawn in 2001.
"I'm a U.S. congressman," he said. "I've got national responsibilities."
Frey said Fairfax Republicans should avoid blaming one another for events Tuesday and instead concentrate on making changes and working harder next time.
"A healthy dialogue of what we did right and what we did wrong is always in order after an election," Frey said.