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Presidential Contest Casts Shadow Over Local Board Race

Challengers factoring in increased turnout from top-of-the-ticket race in their campaigns.

The presidential race at the top of this year's election ticket casts a long shadow — and will potentially affect down-ballot races.

Conventional wisdom says the contest between Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican rival Mitt Romney in Arlington will help Democrats. Obama carried Arlington County with more than 70 percent of the vote four years ago.

That bodes will for Arlington County Board member Libby Garvey, a Democrat and incumbent seeking re-election. Garvey has only held her post for a little more than six months, winning a special election in March to fill a term that expires at the end of this year.

Garvey has taken darts from her opponents — Republican Matt Wavro and Green Party candidate Audrey Clement — for not taking advantage of an opportunity in July to oppose a planned streetcar system along Columbia Pike.

"It's the biggest issue, but let's face it, most likely in Arlington what's going to decide it is the turnout for President Obama and the Democratic vote. That's just the facts of life here," Garvey said this week. "However, I do believe the streetcar issue may be the most important I will decide on on the county board, and I plan to be there a long time."

Party affiliations for county board candidates will not appear on ballots. Democrats currently hold all five seats on the Arlington County Board.

Sample ballots for November indicate Wavro will be at the top of the ticket — on Page 3 of the four-page ballot.

"Because I'm running a local race that's all about local concerns that cross party lines that are concerns for everyone across the ideological spectrum, it means we have an important task ahead of us to train the volunteers who are going to be at the polls and make sure we get the information out there before the election — whether it's an in-depth conversation with me when I'm going door-to-door, or a handful of sample ballots," Wavro said.

The key, he said is making sure voters know that the local issues in play are different than what's at stake on the state and federal level.

"That's a tall order, but it's something that I think is very important because I think the local issues here are very important," Wavro said. "The concept of everyone having their voices heard is an important enough concept… even if the political scientists say it's going to be more difficult, so be it."

Clement said Virginia's status as a swing state in this year's election has made it more difficult for third-party candidacies to gain traction. She cited signature-gathering she has done for Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, saying the job was easy in "safe" states like Kentucky or Maryland, which are more reliably Republican or Democratic, respectively.

"Excellent turnout is always beneficial to an insurgent. However, straight-ticket voting is not. And a presidential race encourages straight-ticket voting," Clement said. "We expect excellent turnout, and that can only help. But we do expect straight-ticket voting will erode some of that benefit."

To combat this, Clement said she distributed 8,000 campaign placards in the month following Labor Day, which compares to 13,000 she was able to deliver over three months during a special election earlier this year.

"I'm clearly working more aggressively," Clement said. "Also, I feel much more confident, because — I can't say I've mastered the issues — but I'm more familiar with the key issues. I'm more focused. I see the fiscal responsibility issue as being paramount. Whereas before, because I'm a Green, I was looking at the environmental issues."

Clement said she's not backing away from environmental issues, just that spending priorities need to be adjusted in order to pursue those issues. A local government needs to run "a tight ship" fiscally before it can consider installing solar panels on all public buildings, for instance, she said.

For her part, Garvey says her fourth campaign in 18 months — she made a failed bid for the state Senate last year before competing in a contentious Democratic caucus in January and, finally, the special election in March — is the "easiest" of the bunch. The time invested in campaigning early has helped on a number of levels, she said. Garvey said she had a hard time seeing anything other than a Democratic sweep in Arlington.

"Do you see it going any other way? Maybe if I'd done something terrible? But I've been on the school board for 15 years. I have a really good record, I think. I could run on my record. Not only that, I'm a Democrat. In Arlington. In a presidential year," she said. "I'd like to have as much support as I can, because frankly that just makes me a stronger board member."

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