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A Brief History of the Arlington Democrats

A History of Progress

There has been an Arlington County Democratic Committee ever since our county assumed that name in 1920. The early Party committee however, was securely under the control of the Byrd Machine – the conservative political organization built by U.S. Senator Harry Flood Byrd that advocated for limited, pay-as-you-go government and organized massive resistance to racial desegregation in the 1950’s.

​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. The first non-Byrd Chair was Mary Marshall, 1961-1962. After her term, the Byrd machine never regained control of the Party in Arlington.

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 Latino voters. Finely tuned get-out-the-vote operations developed in Arlington have driven Democratic turnout numbers, enabling Democrats to elect Democratic Governors, U.S. Senators and Presidents.

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 our Blue Families group helped elect Democrats like Jennifer Wexton, Abigail Spanberger, Elaine Luria, and Conor Lamb to Congress in 2018. Arlington Democrats are dedicated to continuing their efforts in electing effective, Democratic leadership in Arlington and helping in races across Virginia and the nation in a way that further strengthens our democratic institutions and constitution.

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