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Prosecutor race puts county Republicans in a pickle

Some in GOP eager to get involved in Democratic primary

Is the Arlington County Republican Committee encouraging its members to vote in the June 20 Democratic primary for commonwealth’s attorney?

Technically, no, but both at recent Arlington GOP meetings and in e-mail missives to the rank-and-file, some in the party leadership seem to be walking right up to the line.

Consider this March 21 e-mail from the committee’s communications chair, Matthew Hurtt.

“The Arlington GOP does not advise its members to involve themselves in the nominating contests for other political parties, as it could jeopardize your opportunity to be involved in Republican Party activities in Arlington and statewide,” Hurtt wrote.

Sounds cut-and-dried, but only until the very next paragraph.

“That said, Arlington Republicans cannot sit on the sidelines while the Arlington County Democratic Committee tightens their grip on county government,” wrote Hurtt, who recently became party chair.

Hmmmm. Perhaps Hurtt is referring to having Republicans field their own candidate to take on Democrats in the prosecutor race, perhaps intimating that Republicans might want to consider voting for the most preferable contender in the Democratic field.

Fast-forward to the monthly Republican Committee meeting of March 27. One veteran party stalwart arrived with a pitch for the challenger in the Democratic primary, including a campaign sign.

She wasn’t quite hushed up, but outgoing GOP chair Lori Urban said that anyone wanting to wade into that race needed to know the facts.

“There are some ramifications,” Urban said, as those who vote in Democratic primaries or donate money to Democratic candidates face sanctions like not being able to participate in state-level party events or achieve certain leadership positions.

Incumbent Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti four years ago rode a wave of outside campaign cash to defeat incumbent Theo Stamos in the Democratic primary (and then was unopposed in the general election). Some Republicans crossed the party divide to vote for Stamos in that primary, seeing Dehghani-Tafti as a candidate backed by left-wing billionaire George Soros.

This time around, Dehghani-Tafti is being challenged within the Democratic ranks by Josh Katcher, who previously served in the commonwealth’s attorney’s office. So far, the race has not quite coalesced into the barnburner that some anti-Tafti forces had hoped, but there remains time for it to get interesting.

Virginia does not register voters by political party; as a result, primary elections are open to all voters, although if both Republicans and Democrats are holding them on the same day, a voter cannot cast ballots in both. Unlike party caucuses, voting in a state-run primary does not involve signing a “loyalty oath” promising to support the party’s ticket in the ensuing general election.

But as Hurtt and Urban noted, there could be ramifications for Republicans who opt to vote in the Democratic primary.

Commonwealth’s attorney is one of 13 different races on the November ballot in Arlington. So far, Republicans are having a hard time coming up with aspiring office-seekers.

Republicans last ran a candidate for commonwealth’s attorney in 1983, when then-incumbent Henry Hudson won re-election to a second four-year term.

(Although having long ties to Republican politics, Hudson technically ran in 1979 and 1983 as an independent, according to county election records. That in turn would make Angelo Iandolo, who unsuccessfully ran against Democrat William Burroughs Jr. in 1975, as the last to have sought the post as a Republican.)

Hudson – known to some during his prosecutor days as “Hang ’em High Henry” owing to his aggressiveness – resigned his elected office in 1986 when he was confirmed as U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, serving during the late Reagan administration and into the George H.W. Bush era.

After service in the state judiciary, in 2002 Hudson was confirmed as a judge of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. He currently has senior-judge status on that body.