Virginia Democratic voters nominated the first transgender candidate for the state’s House of Delegates on Tuesday, pitting former journalist Danica Roem against a leading transphobic lawmaker, incumbent Republican Bob Marshall.
Roem won a heavily contested primary, as a number of Democrats jumped into the race sensing that Marshall may be vulnerable. Marshall is in his 11th term in a district that encompasses Prince William County, which has been been trending more Democratic in recent years, and away from Marshall’s brand of politics.
He has spent significant amounts of his legislative career pushing a hardline Christian conservative agenda. He has attempted to ban gay people from serving in the Virginia National Guard, pushed for a mandatory transvaginal ultrasound for women seeking an abortion, and in January introduced a “bathroom bill” to discriminate against transgender people. Roem played a leading role in the successful opposition to the bill.
Meanwhile, traffic in the district has gotten worse and worse, and that’s the issue Roem ran and won on. “He spent more time on where I go to the bathroom than on fixing Route 28,” Roem told The Intercept in an interview after she was declared the winner. Route 28 is a major commuter road in the area.
She planned to beat Marshall in the general election, she said, with the same message that carried her in the primary: fixing Route 28, bringing high-paying jobs to the district, raising teacher pay, expanding healthcare coverage and defending LGBT rights. Indeed, for anyone who has spent time in suburban Virginia, it’s difficult to overstate the salience of traffic as an issue.
“We’re gonna knock on more than 20,000 doors in the next four months,” said Roem, adding that she and her team had already knocked on 8,000 during the primary, and had all 18 precincts staffed on election day, a serious feat for a delegate primary. “I know how to beat Bob Marshall, because I already beat him in the General Assembly,” she said.
The skills she picked up in her career as both a local and a national reporter helped her in the campaign, and will be a boon in the assembly, she said. “I’m running to bring a reporter’s sensibility to Richmond. The skills are directly transferable: you research, listen, research, listen more, then write your first draft.”
Though she finished third in the money race, knocking on so many doors, and having so many conversations, is what mattered, she said.
“Don’t let anyone tell you a transgender person can’t win, because we just did,” she said.
Correction: June 14, 2017, 1:21 p.m.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Virginia’s District 13 included parts of Loudoun County. Loudoun has not been a part of District 13 since redistricting in 2011.