4,446 Lonely D.C. Republicans

One of the strange things about living in Washington, D.C. is the ongoing presence of lots and lots of Republicans. In my adult life I've lived in two other large cities (San Francisco and Philadelphia), and in both of those members of the Grand Old Party are not only few in number but nearly invisible. Sure, there are a few cities where Republicans are plentiful (Dallas, I hear), but on the whole the more urban the area you're in, the more likely Democrats are to dominate the place's political, cultural, and social life.

But here in the nation's capital, Republicans are plentiful. You see them going in and out of think-tank offices, traipsing about Capitol Hill, even walking down the street in broad daylight. Famous ones, ordinary ones, ones in all sizes and ages and genders. They're everywhere.

Except almost none of them actually live in the District of Columbia. Anyone who's been here for any time knows this; if you're a Republican in these parts, you live in Virginia. You can certainly see it in city politics, where the local Republican party hardly bothers to run anyone for any elected offices.

But here's something really striking: In yesterday's Republican primary, a grand total of 4,446 D.C. Republicans turned out to vote, in a city of about 600,000 residents.

Now granted, turnout might have been a bit low because the race is all but over, and one of the remaining candidates (Rick Santorum) is running such an organizational juggernaut that he couldn't manage to get his name on the ballot. But just 4,447 voters? That's really something. In neighboring Maryland—the most Democratic state in the union by registration—which has about ten times the population, you had 238,018 people cast votes in the Republican primary, or 53 times as many as voted in D.C.


To be fair, Paul, it looks like only 51,000 Democrats or so voted in an election with an at large city council seat up, and I'll wager Democratic to GOP registration ratios are, in fact, about 11:1, if not higher, in the District.

And for those who don't live in the DC area who are thinking, "At large city council race is supposed to drive turnout???" let me explain. When you have as little say in your own governance as we do in DC, with Congress overseeing and changing our budgets and our laws, city council becomes a much bigger deal than it's been anywhere else I've ever lived. The importance of the little bit we have of "home rule" gains unusual and outsized primacy in our minds. So, yeah, I might miss a Presidential election if it's inconvenient and I'm out of town, but I'd NEVER miss a city election. Perverse incentives lead to perverse thinking, and a lack of connection with the rest of the country leads to a lack of connection with national elections.

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