A Brief History of Arlington Democrats
There has been an Arlington Democratic Party ever since Arlington County was renamed from Alexandria County in 1920. That Arlington Democratic Party, however, was securely in the fold of the Byrd Machine – the political network built by U.S. Senator Harry Byrd to foster limited, pay-as-you-go government and maintain racial segregation in the Old Dominion.
FDR’s New Deal and World War II brought to the nation’s Capital – and to the nearby suburb of Arlington — thousands of people from across the United States with perspectives, outlooks and philosophies that often differed and frequently clashed with the traditions of Virginia ‘s “establishment.” The 1950s saw the emergence of organizations – like Arlingtonians for a Better County [ABC] – designed to give a political voice to liberal-leaning citizens put off by the conservative nature of the Byrd Democratic Party. During the 1960s and early 1970s, many activists who came through the ABC would ultimately wrest control of the Arlington Democratic Committee from the Byrd Organization.
This tumultuous period was followed in the mid-1970s by the emergence of numerous Young Democrat leaders who were elected to state and local office in Arlington . These AYDs and the progressive pioneers of the 1960s strengthened the organization of the Arlington Democratic Committee through the remainder of the 1970s and 1980s. During that time, the majority on the Arlington County Board swung to the Democrats. Democrats captured all five local Constitutional offices and, by 1990, every elected office in Arlington was held by a Democrat. One of the prouder moments for Arlington Democrats arose on election night 1984. CBS News anchor Dan Rather pointed to a very small dot of blue in the tip of Virginia amidst an electoral sea of red, saying “the US is voting overwhelmingly for Ronald Reagan but in the suburbs of the nation’s Capital, Walter Mondale is winning handily in Arlington !”
Through the 1990s and early 21st century, Arlington Democrats have consolidated their success by modernizing the Party infrastructure and by improving outreach to younger people along the burgeoning Metro corridor and to the emerging cohort of Latino voters. Finely tuned get-out-the-vote operations developed in Arlington have driven Democratic turnout numbers enabling Democrats to capture the Governorship in 2001 and 2005, the U.S. Senate in 2006, and the Presidency in 2008.