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The Youth Challenge

D.C. Native, 24, Launches Bid Against Norton

Neatly dressed in a dark suit and deep red tie, Michael Monroe glides through the small crowd in the back room of a popular restaurant in an upper Northwest Washington neighborhood.

Given Monroe’s youthful demeanor, the event could easily be mistaken for a graduation party — friends and mentors standing in small clusters near the bar, Monroe’s father, Charles, photographing the evening — when, in fact, it marks the 24-year-old’s campaign kickoff.

A Washington, D.C., native and political novice, Monroe is seeking to become the city’s next House Delegate, and the District’s sole Congressional representative.

In announcing his bid last week against the seven-term incumbent, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), Monroe acknowledges he faces an “uphill battle,” perhaps an understatement in a city where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 10-to-1.

But Monroe insists that Norton — who won re-election in 2002 with 93 percent of the vote — hasn’t faced a serious challenger since winning office in 1990.

According to the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, between 1994 and 2000, Republican candidates facing Norton routinely failed to garner more than 6 percent of the vote. The party opted not to field a candidate in the 2002 cycle.

Looking to avoid the missteps of past candidates, Monroe intends to be well-organized, in part relying on his own publicity savvy: He runs his own communications firm and serves as marketing director for Chef Geoff’s Restaurants.

“I’m prepared to go out and meet people,” asserts Monroe, who is the likely GOP nominee, although he has yet to receive the party’s official endorsement, according to Jamila Billue Atkinson, D.C. GOP’s executive director.

Monroe describes his base as a typical network of family and friends. He notes that his campaign strategy, in part, will focus on encouraging some of those acquaintances to cross party lines, as well as motivating the “youth vote” behind his candidacy.

“Growing up in D.C. … I know Washington and I know a lot of Washingtonians,” said Monroe, a graduate of the District’s Gonzaga College High School who earned his bachelor’s from James Madison University in 2001.

Despite having never held elected office, Monroe is not entirely untried in the local political arena.

He served as campaign manager to Republican Eric Rojo’s unsuccessful 2002 run against City Councilwoman Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3) — switching roles, Rojo has signed on as Monroe’s campaign manager — and made his own bid for an Advisory Neighborhood Commission slot in Ward 3.

When it comes to financing his new campaign, the Republican said he expects his operation will be run “as fiscally conservative as possible,” and he is planning a series of “neighborhood meet-and-greet” fundraisers.

Describing his campaign, Monroe, who is creating a documentary of his bid, said: “I’m a neighborhood politician.”

Still, Monroe must overcome Norton’s head start in the money race. The incumbent lawmaker’s war chest contained nearly $138,000 in cash on hand at the close of 2003.

In a speech announcing his candidacy, Monroe outlined his platform, which will focus on obtaining full Congressional representation for the District, as well as improving public education and working to create a commuter tax.

While many of his priorities mirror those of the incumbent — Norton authored a bill that would give the city full Congressional representation and plans to introduce legislation creating a commuter tax — Monroe is quick to point to differences.

The political neophyte, for instance, supports Rep. Dana Rohrabacher’s (R-Calif.) District of Columbia Voting Rights Restoration Act, which treats D.C. residents as Maryland voters for the purpose of taking part in Congressional elections. Norton’s No Taxation Without Representation Act would create two Senate seats and a House seat for the city.

Although several Republicans, including Rohrabacher and House Government Reform Chairman Tom Davis (Va.), have publicly voiced support for some form of Congressional representation for the District, Monroe believes the District needs a homegrown Republican to lobby effectively for the legislation.

“I think that, in order to succeed, we need to have a two-party system that is active,” Monroe added.

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