Rob Bergeron has endured driving to work through a haze of Kerry-Edwards signs for what feels like an eternity, so it was with relief that he finally sat down in a room at the Bush-Cheney national headquarters in Arlington on Tuesday evening to man the phone banks with more than 30 other young Republicans.
"It was so inspiring," Bergeron said afterward, quaffing a pint at Ireland's Four Courts, which is the Bushies' favorite hangout nearby. "A room full of people who think like you do."
It's tough being a young Republican in the Democrat-heavy Northern Virginia suburbs of Arlington and Alexandria, where more than 60 percent of residents traditionally vote Democratic. "We basically concede we're outnumbered six or seven to one," Bergeron said.
So it was a surprise to many that the Bush-Cheney national campaign chose the bright blue Arlington courthouse neighborhood to set up its headquarters.
But election year fervor -- and perhaps the unfriendly surroundings -- appears to have energized the area's young Republicans. They have turned out in droves to volunteer, pass out literature at fairs and on doorsteps and campaign for such candidates as Alexandria defense consultant Lisa Marie Cheney, who is opposing Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D) in Virginia's 8th District.
In the past year, the Arlington-Falls Church Young Republicans club has doubled its membership from 50 lonely souls to more than 100. The Alexandria group has more than 400 people on its e-mail list, said its chairman, Bergeron, 37.
"You have an extra patriotic fervor living among folks that don't agree with you," said Kerry Finnegan, 28, a policy think tank program director from Arlington. "It makes you all the more determined to educate the other people in this neighborhood, the liberal Democrats, that the conservative Republican viewpoint makes more sense."
Despite their growing numbers, young Republicans still find themselves living the underdog life in liberal Arlington, which can make for some interesting moments.
"I let a balloon go at Clarendon Day last week and an environmentalist told me a little bird was going to choke on that because it was not biodegradable," Finnegan recalled. "I felt so sorry for that doomed bird!"
Meanwhile, the area around the Court House Metro station -- once dominated by the Arlington County office building, home to the all-Democratic County Board -- has become its own little red-blue battleground as Kerry supporters signing up voters routinely run into Bush-Cheney staffers on their way to work across the street.
Volunteers for Moran, who were passing out literature at the Metro stop recently, are convinced that the Bush-Cheney campaign sent over a hired security guard to shoo them away; a clean-cut young man with a handful of Bush bumper stickers showed up a short while later.
Diyaa Houdaigui, manager of Brooklyn Bagel, said he had to referee a political argument recently between a county employee and two young Bush staffers waiting for bagels. The county worker, overhearing the two young Republicans talking about the Bush campaign, "jumped in, asking why Clinton had to apologize for his affair with Monica Lewinsky when Bush had sent thousands of people to die in Iraq," Houdaigui said.
On Oct. 18, more street theater: There was the highly unusual sight of Arlington police officers wielding bolt cutters to extricate seven AIDS and housing demonstrators from the Bush-Cheney headquarters doors.
Next week, Arlington's brief moment in the Republican national spotlight will come to an end when the campaign starts pulling in the tent flaps and packing up.
"It is a big shining moment," quipped George Croft, a Fairfax County resident and GOP volunteer. Then he brightened. "But we have the governor and lieutenant governor races here next year!"