A Brief History of Arlington Democrats

Our History Is One of Progressive Progress

There has been an Arlington Democratic Party ever since our county assumed the name of Arlington County in 1920. That early 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.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt’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 – designed to give a political voice to liberal-leaning citizens put off by the conservative policies of the Byrd Democratic Party. During the 1960s and early 1970s, many activists who came through Arlingtonians for a Better County 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 Democratic leaders who were elected to state and local office in Arlington. Our Arlington Young Democrats 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, Democrats held every elected office in Arlington.

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 and said, “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 the first decades of this new century, Arlington Democrats have consolidated their success by modernizing the party’s infrastructure and by improving outreach to younger people along the burgeoning Metro corridors and to the emerging cohort of Latinx voters. Finely tuned get-out-the-vote operations developed in Arlington have driven Democratic turnout numbers, enabling Democrats to capture the Governorship in 2001, 2005, 2013, and 2017, U.S. Senate seats in 2006, 2008, 2012, 2014, 2018, and 2020, and the U.S. Presidency in 2008, 2012, and 2020.

In recent years, Arlington Dems have harnessed their organizational skills and progressive values to elect Democrats throughout Virginia and around the country. Our Beyond Arlington initiative helped flip 15 seats in the Virginia House of Delegates in 2017, and Beyond Arlington together with the Blue Families team helped elect Democrats like Jennifer Wexton, Abigail Spanberger, Elaine Luria, and Conor Lamb to Congress in 2018. In 2019, Blue Families supported fourteen Virginia House and Senate candidates and helped flip the Virginia Legislature blue. In 2020, Blue Families supported voter registration and turnout efforts in six states, while Beyond Arlington focused on phone-bank-from-home sessions that supported progressive candidates around Virginia. In January 2021, Blue Families provided support, including both postcard-writing and door-to-door canvassing, for the two victorious Senate candidates from Georgia, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, helping flip the U.S. Senate to Democratic Party control.

Our hard work on local races in Arlington has also paid off. In 2018, more registered voters in Arlington took part in the general election than in any other non-Presidential election in the county’s history. The months-long efforts of Arlington Dems and Arlington Young Dems to get out the vote among infrequent, millennial, and first-time voters were a big reason why 71% of all registered voters in Arlington voted in the midterms on Nov. 6. All four of the Democratic candidates on the local ballot – Senator Tim Kaine, Congressman Don Beyer, Matt de Ferranti for Arlington County Board, and Arlington School Board member Barbara Kanninen – won on election night in 2018.

In 2019, a year with no senatorial, gubernatorial, or Presidential candidates on the ballot, efforts of Arlington Democrats and Young Arlington Democrats led to turnout of 37%, the highest level for an “off-off” year in two decades. Again, all Democratic candidates won, including County Board members Katie Cristol and Christian Dorsey, as well as Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti.

Democratic volunteer work then led to the election of another Democrat to the County Board, Takis Karantonis, in a July 2020 special election held in the midst of the COVID pandemic. In November 2020, despite the continuing pandemic, turnout reached 79%. Again, the entire slate of Democratic candidates in Arlington was elected. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris carried 80% of the vote in Arlington for President and Vice-President. Mark Warner was re-elected to the Senator, garnering 79% of the vote, and Don Beyer was re-elected to the House of Representatives, also with 79% of the vote. Libby Garvey was re-elected to the County Board, and Cristina Diaz-Torres and David Priddy were elected to the School Board.

You can help Arlington Dems build on our proud progressive history and past electoral successes by working to get Democratic voters to the polls in the coming year. Commit to start making a difference today. Sign up to help us elect progressive Democratic candidates in Arlington, throughout Virginia, and around the country.