In June, Danica Roem made history after defeating three other Democrats to become the first transgender woman to win a primary race to serve in Virginia’s House of Delegates.
And this November, she’ll face off against Republican incumbent Bob Marshall in the general election. Should she win, Roem would become the third transgender state legislator in the country.
But Roem’s race in Virginia is one to watch for reasons beyond its history-making potential.
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While the gubernatorial contest between Democrat Ralph Northam and Republican Ed Gillespie has dominated the attention in Virginia, all 100 seats in the state’s House of Delegates are up for election in November. And races like Roem’s could end up being the true bellwethers to gauge the Democrats’ strength ahead of the 2018 midterms.
“[I]f Democrats managed to pick off 10 or more GOP-held seats, it would send a signal that voters are in the mood to punish President Trump and Republicans — a mirror image of the GOP legislative gains in 2009 that foreshadowed Republicans taking back the House in 2010,” the Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman recently wrote.
Democrats in Virginia need to gain 17 seats to take back the majority in the House of Delegates. And in the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump in exactly 17 Republican-controlled districts – including the district where Roem is taking on Marshall.
Still, Democrats believe picking up 17 seats is a tall order. Carolyn Fiddler, a senior communications adviser at the liberal website Daily Kos notes, “Realistically, flipping the Virginia House is a multi-cycle endeavor.”
Republicans, however, are confident they’ll hold on to their seats. “Presidential electorates tend to be more Democrat-heavy,” said Garren Shipley, communications director for the Republican Party of Virginia. “But in our off-year elections, those years show much lower turnouts” — which Shipley says benefits the GOP.
“We’re confident in this House of Delegates. Our caucus has a really good record. They’ve put in the work,” Shipley added.
But across Virginia, Roem says that Democratic candidates like her are focused on building “well organized, consistent” ground games to counter the Republican efforts – and to send a “direct signal to Washington that it’s time to start electing truth seekers,” she said.
“More Democrats winning these local elections? Of course that will do well for the party in 2018,” Roem said. “But it’s the quality of the Democrat who you’re electing that sends the biggest signal.”
Jordan Jackson is a 2020 campaign embed for NBC News.