So how did Walter Tejada win?
Local political junkies were poring over election results this week, trying to understand just that by dissecting the special election nine days ago in which Tejada (D) handily beat veteran GOP candidate Mike W. Clancy for a seat on the Arlington County Board.
With 21,500 ballots cast -- the heaviest turnout for a special election in county history -- Tejada won 55 percent of the vote to Clancy's 45 percent. Tejada, who was sworn in Friday, fills the seat of former board member Charles P. Monroe (D), who died in January while presiding over his first meeting as chairman.
Democrats, still giddy over helping to elect the county's first Latino board member, also breathed a sigh of relief, surprised by Tejada's convincing showing. He beat Clancy by more than 2,100 votes.
Many observers, including high-ranking Democrats, had predicted a fight to the finish, forecasting that only a few hundred votes would separate the two. In several county special elections in the past decade, the winning margin has been only a couple of hundred votes.
"We really thought it was going to be a much tighter race," said Dan Steen, Arlington County Democratic Committee chairman. "But people really showed up at the polls, and that helped Walter win a convincing victory."
Meanwhile, Republicans again found themselves on the short end of what they called a solid effort by Clancy. The race marked Clancy's third run for a seat on the board. He lost to Democrats Jay Fisette in 2001 and Chris Zimmerman last November.
Although Clancy's 45 percent was not enough to beat Tejada, he won more votes than any Republican in a special election in county history, including Mike Lane, who beat Monroe in 1999.
Republicans said they were up against a well-organized Democratic Party that seemed to run on the emotion of ensuring that a Democrat held Monroe's seat. But they said that they still believe that they have a solid base to build upon and that they are in position to win a County Board seat or one of the open state delegate seats in the 47th and 49th Districts this year.
What they must do, several GOP activists said, is gain a better understanding of their base and get voters to the polls, particularly in special elections, in which where the party has pulled out two victories in 10 years.
"We need to get better voters lists and energize those people," said Lane, chairman of the 8th Congressional District Republican Committee. "We have to make voter identification a priority."
Tejada's victory came down to executing the basics of how to win elections, observers said. First, there was money. In an energetic eight weeks, Tejada shattered special election fundraising records.
As of March 14, he had a little more than $92,000, nearly triple Clancy's total, which as of Feb. 26, was $32,000. Clancy's final figures have not been released.
The windfall illustrates the overwhelming support Tejada received. It also paid for several cable TV ads and a sophisticated Web site at which supporters could make online donations. "They ran a very good, creative campaign," said Nelson Rios, founder of the Virginia Alliance of Latinos Organized for Representation, a nonpartisan advocacy group based in Arlington.
In addition, Tejada had the muscle of the local and state Democratic Party behind him, with every party official, including Gov. Mark R. Warner and Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, supporting his campaign. Warner and Kaine came to Arlington to host fundraisers for Tejada.
In contrast, only two elected officials supported Tejada in the Democratic primary in February. Many chose to support former board chairman Albert C. Eisenberg.
Second, there was turnout. Although the election may have garnered record-shattering numbers at the end of the day, Democrats panicked that morning and early afternoon, thinking that there would not be enough votes to secure victory.
But an early morning snow shower seemed to stall voters and later gave way to a late flurry of voting that made up the difference. Observers said Tejada carried his South Arlington base, while cutting into Clancy's North Arlington constituency, an area where Democrats had thought the race would be much closer.
"The most important thing in these special elections is turnout, and we were worried at first that we didn't have the numbers," Steen said.
Others said Clancy, although out-performing his opponent in debates and public forums, may not have done the kind of grass-roots organization that Tejada did and thus could not connect with voters.
"You just can't rely on debates and forums to win," said Christian Dorsey, a Democrat who has run two unsuccessful campaigns in the last year, including the special election primary. "You have to win on the street."
Then there was partisan emotion. In stump speeches, interviews, fundraisers and meet and greets, Tejada consistently invoked the legacy of Monroe. In addition, Democratic operatives and supporters hammered the point that Monroe's seat should never be handed to a Republican, hoping to stoke voters to show up in large numbers.
Overall, Republicans said, they were pleased with Clancy's campaign and saw silver linings, even in defeat. They said the party changed the agenda of the campaign in its favor, as Clancy has done in the past.
Clancy's opposition to a major league baseball stadium in Arlington and his call to lower the real estate tax rate forced Tejada to take on similar or identical stances, party officials said. Democrats countered that Tejada's original position on fiscal responsibility and general skepticism regarding the stadium were his alone and not influenced by Clancy.
Republicans also said they have several candidates with a shot to win on their fall agenda -- Sarah Summerville, who likely will run as an Independent and whom Republicans could endorse, as they did with Clancy in 2001, and planning Commissioner John Vihstadt, who has not announced that he is running.
"I think there were a lot of positives about the campaign," said Elise Kenderian, chair of the Arlington County Republican Committee. "We're still seeing a lot of improvement in our campaigns."