Arlington County is one of the few localities in Virginia with all Democratic elected officials. Each year, at least one member of the Arlington County Board and the Arlington School Board face voters with the winner of the Democratic nomination or endorsement strongly favored to win their seats again. This year County Board member Jay Fisette went unopposed for the County Board nomination, but incumbent School Board member James Lander has drawn a challenger in Barbara Kanninen.
This nomination fight has grown much larger than a school board seat, but is showing some of the splits within the Arlington Democratic Party.
One of the unique things about Arlington is its demographics and how they vote. North Arlington is full of precincts that are some of the least diverse in Virginia- most over 80% white, with many over 90% white. Yet these precincts consistently vote Democratic. Arlington's diversity is mostly along the orange line and south of Rt. 50- in what is known as South Arlington.
Which makes the Barbara Kanninen campaign strategy very interesting.
The Arlington Democratic Committee allows all candidates to publish events to their calendar that are included in their regular email updates. Kanninen has listed numerous events in the last two months- 25 that I count on the calendar before the caucus is held next weekend. All 25 of those events have been held in North Arlington. In fact, when I pulled up census data, every single event appears to have been held in a precinct that is at least 80% white.
It's clear that there is going to be a north-south Arlington split in this voting- but one of the candidates won't talk to the other half of the county? Even worse for public appearance, this is a white candidate refusing to go to minority areas of the county and talk to those voters, instead only having events in 80% or more white precincts? If you want to split the Democratic coalition, Kanninen is showing an excellent way to do it.
This strategy is no electoral oversight- most smart Arlington election watchers have told me they expect Kanninen to win this election with strong turnout from north Arlington. But if this type of strategy works will countywide candidates continue to try this in the future and ignore south Arlington voters?
I asked both legislators from south Arlington to comment on this development. State Senator Adam Ebbin said that "I want all the voters to have the information they need" and "I think its important that the candidates reach out across the county to all the precincts". On the other hand, Delegate Alfonso Lopez puzzlingly had no comment on Kanninen not having a single public event in his area.
Imagine what Virginia Democrats would say about a Republican candidate running downstate that refused to go into any areas with a large population of minority voters. As stomach turning as it might look though- this type of politics has worked well for candidates since Richard Nixon first started his "southern strategy" in 1968- so as long as it works I expect to see candidates continue to try this.