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The 2016 general election is a year away, but LL can make one prediction now: the D.C. GOP will maintain its losing streak and not win a single seat on the D.C. Council.
That’d be a safe call in any year for the District, where 76 percent of registered voters are Democrats. But 2016 was supposed to be the year of GOP revival! Instead, the party finds itself struggling to keep its only declared candidate while dealing with a Catholic University sophomore who’s become a surprising power player.
Just a few months ago, prominent Republican Pat Mara—once the party’s best hope, until he lost three at-large races—regained control of the GOP from cigar-chomping Tea Party types. By ditching the right wing of the party, the theory went, the Republicans might actually win back one of the at-large seats that they haven’t held since Mara ousted longtime GOP-er Carol Schwartz in the 2008 Republican primary.
To help rebuild the party, Mara and new Chairman José Cunningham recruited former corporate headhunter Dave Oberting, who currently spends his days pushing out press releases at his free market-y think tank Economic Growth D.C., to run for an at-large seat. But then, Oberting made a surprising choice: He hired Walter Deleon, a Catholic University sophomore, as his campaign manager.
Deleon is an “only in D.C.” type of would-be political operator. He was a Ward 5 advisory neighborhood commissioner until last week, when he announced he will resign to run for a spot on the (mostly pointless) State Board of Education. At one point last year, the flailing Tommy Wells mayoral campaign touted Deleon’s endorsement in a blast email: “High School Senior Endorses Tommy.”
This campaign cycle, Deleon is moonlighting as a supporter for the Martin O’Malley presidential campaign. This guy really knows how to choose ‘em.
Oberting’s pick didn’t impress Republicans bigwigs, according to Deleon. Kris Hammond, the GOP’s 2014 candidate for Council chairman, tells LL he asked Deleon questions about working for the campaign because of his otherwise liberal politics.
“It appeared that his support for Dave was genuine,” Hammond says.
Last week, Deleon called up LL to say Oberting was considering splitting from the party to run as an independent next November. Among the reasons Deleon cited for the potential split: a lack of support from the D.C. GOP, and Oberting’s continuing unhappiness with belonging to the same party as Donald Trump, whom he called “a fucking menace to society” when he announced his campaign in August. Deleon himself remained a sticking point in the party, he says.
“He felt very uncomfortable with some of the people who are uneasy about me being Dave’s campaign manager,” Deleon said.
When LL asked Oberting whether he really was going to bail on the pachyderms, Oberting turned cryptic, emailing back only, “Walter talks too much.” For his part, Mara seemed unconcerned.
“We can’t really control the individual decisions [of candidates],” Mara said, although he conceded that one member of the D.C. GOP was “obsessed” with Oberting’s decision to hire Deleon.
Soon after getting off the phone with LL, though, Mara left Oberting a voicemail asking whether he was really going to leave the party.
“I don’t like this,” Oberting wrote to Deleon. “What do you want me to say?”
“Be brutally honest,” Deleon replied, writing later, “Remind him that this isn’t personal, it’s solely political.”
As of Tuesday, Oberting hadn’t changed his candidate affiliation. Now he tells LL that jumping parties was only a “stray thought,” and he intends to stay with the Republicans.
Still, the D.C. GOP, out of office for seven years, has now confounded itself over a college student. Given the party’s track record lately, though, maybe they should put Deleon in charge. He couldn’t do much worse.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery