Danica Roem says she knew she won when 19 of the 20 precincts in her Virginia House of Delegates district were counted, and her phone rang. It was former Vice President Joe Biden, who last month endorsed Roem’s bid to unseat Bob Marshall, the longtime Republican incumbent in the 13th District, which covers an exurban stretch of Prince William County about 35 miles outside DC.
It was tough to make out Roem’s description of Biden’s call above the din of Prince William County Democrats celebrating a massive victory from the gubernatorial race on down. Roem’s contest might’ve been the second-most-watched Virginia race in the whole country, owing to her becoming the commonwealth’s first openly transgender elected official and knocking off Marshall—known more for his legislative attacks on women’s health and LGBT individuals than constituent services—in the process.
But, when she stood on a chair to address the cheering crowd at the Water’s End Brewery in Woodbridge, she talked about what she told every reporter who wanted to focus on identity politics: the traffic.
“I’m a reporter, I believe in accountability,” said Roem, who previously worked for the Gainesville Times and National Journal‘s Hotline. “I said this election was a referendum on Route 28. That’s why I got in this race. I’m sick of that fucking road in my hometown.”
Roem, 33, focused her campaign on traffic conditions on the main drag in Manassas, though having a national profile certainly helped her raise three times as much money as her opponent. The race pitted an upstart wonk against a raw cultural warrior. While Roem tried to keep the focus on infrastructure and other wonky stuff, Marshall’s campaign responded by misgendering her and attacking her past as the singer in a thrash metal band.
In the room Tuesday night, it seemed the traffic stuff had worked, boosted by a statewide rejection of the Republican Party and President Trump. Hope Vella, who moved in August from Roem’s district, drove back with her girlfriend to knock on doors. “Traffic on 28 was horrible,” Vella said. “It would take forever to get to work.”
That Roem was the one to finally knock off Marshall after 13 terms was a bonus: “I think Marshall sees what karma’s like now,” Vella said.
Roem’s win was projected about 8 PM. The brewery filled with cheers after Democrats won more districts, most of which had gone for Hillary Clinton in last year’s presidential election despite historically sending Republicans to Richmond. Among the other winners: Jennifer Carroll Foy, Hala Ayala, Elizabeth Guzman, and Lee Carter also picked up seats. The room exploded as each of them walked in. When the House of Delegates convenes in January, Prince William County’s delegation will include a black woman, the chamber’s first two Hispanic women, its first trans woman, and a Bernie Sanders-style socialist.
In short, the scene at the brewery was the opposite of what everyone was feeling a year ago. “A year ago I felt nervous and scared,” said Danielle Berry, who came out to support Foy, a public defender. “Now, I’m inspired and hopeful.”
More big applause moments came when the televisions showed Democratic Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam trouncing Republican nominee Ed Gillespie by an 9-percentage point margin in the governor’s race. Among Northam’s fans: Simon Gillespie, a Irish national who lives in New York and drove down Sunday to volunteer. “I’m avenging my family name,” he said while flashing his green card.
Tuesday night might have also been the first instance in Virginia political history of members of a major party celebrating alongside heavy metal fans. Leading cheers for Roem was Metal Chris, the publisher of DCHeavyMetal.com. Between sips of brown ale and venue recommendations for other metal heads, Metal Chris reveled in the failure of Marshall’s ads attacking Roem’s music career.
“Bob Marshall slammed her for being in a metal band,” Metal Chris said. “For that not to matter to voters? That’s awesome. It’s like one of us is up there, and it’s kind of cool.”