For­mer vice pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den called her to tell her she had won

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - VIR­GINIA BY AL­LI­SON KLEIN al­li­son.klein@wash­

A photo of Del.-elect Dan­ica Roem on elec­tion night went vi­ral. Here’s the story be­hind the im­age.

Elec­tion re­turns were quickly rolling in Tues­day evening, strongly fa­vor­ing Dan­ica Roem, a Demo­crat, in her bid for Vir­ginia state del­e­gate. A vic­tory would set her on a path to be­come the first openly trans­gen­der per­son in the coun­try elected and seated in a state leg­is­la­ture.

Roem was feel­ing cau­tiously op­ti­mistic, but her train­ing as a jour­nal­ist had taught her to gather all the facts first. Around 8 p.m., she be­lieved it was way too early to de­clare she’d beaten her op­po­nent, Robert G. Mar­shall, 73, a 13-term in­cum­bent Repub­li­can who has called him­self the state’s “chief ho­mo­phobe.”

She was anx­iously pac­ing around a restau­rant in Prince Wil­liam County, one of sev­eral stops be­fore the “watch party” where she’d planned to connect with her cam­paign man­ager and sup­port­ers to see the re­sults come in.

“I’m think­ing ‘Whoa, the ab­sen­tee bal­lots are out, I don’t want to jinx it. There’s only 19 of 20 precincts counted,’ ” she re­called.

All of a sud­den, her phone rang. A voice on the other end said for­mer vice pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den wanted to talk with her. A few sec­onds later, she heard Bi­den’s fa­mil­iar voice.

Bi­den of­fered her a hearty “Con­grat­u­la­tions,” and, just like that, the re­al­iza­tion that she had won started to wash over her.

“When the for­mer vice pres­i­dent of United States calls you, that’s usu­ally the point when you can go ahead and de­clare vic­tory,” Roem said.

As they talked, she re­minded him that the two had spo­ken in 2015 at Bi­den’s son’s fu­neral. Roem had driven to Wilm­ing­ton to pay re­spects to Beau Bi­den, for­mer Delaware at­tor­ney gen­eral, who died of brain can­cer.

Roem waited in line for hours to of­fer con­do­lences to the Bi­dens for their son, whom she ad­mired in part for his sup­port of a statewide trans­gen­der rights bill.

“I thanked him for rais­ing some­one with the char­ac­ter of Beau, who helped get trans­gen­der rights passed,” Roem re­mem­bers telling Bi­den at the fu­neral.

She said Bi­den put his hands on her shoul­ders, looked her in the eye and said “We mean that. We mean that.” Then he kissed her hand and hugged her.

“You turn to goo, your knees just buckle,” Roem said. “He was there telling a trans­gen­der wo­man that her rights are worth pro­tect­ing.”

Dur­ing the elec­tion night phone call, Bi­den told her that he, too, re­mem­bered the mo­ment, she said.

Bi­den, who has called trans­gen­der rights the “civil rights is­sue of our time,” sup­ported Roem and four other Democrats run­ning for the House of Del­e­gates in Novem­ber.

She in­vited him to Manas­sas dur­ing the call, telling him she’d love to show him around her home town.

Then they hung up. They had talked for about three min­utes.

“I paced around a minute. I looked at ev­ery­one and I’m try­ing to process this,” Roem said. “I’m think­ing ‘What do I do? What do I do? My cam­paign man­ager is not with me.’ ”

She walked back into the main room of the restau­rant, Grafton Street Restau­rant & Pub, and looked at a group of her sup­port­ers. The room fell si­lent.

“I just got a call from Joe Bi­den, and we won,” she said loudly.

The restau­rant blew up in cheers.

Roem walked into an­other room and leaned against a wall.

“I was sob­bing,” she said. “I was over­whelmed and joy­ous. I just felt the need to slide down the wall.”

So she did. And Wash­ing­ton Post pho­tog­ra­pher Jahi Chikwendiu was there to cap­ture it.

He said the room was dark, and he was able to light his photo with the flash of a phone cam­era as a sup­porter also wanted to doc­u­ment the mo­ment.

The photo went vi­ral on Twit­ter, and Bi­den retweeted it, writ­ing “You’re go­ing to make us all proud, Dan­ica.”


Dan­ica Roem re­acts mo­ments af­ter re­ceiv­ing a call from for­mer vice pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den, in which he told her that she had won Tues­day’s elec­tion. Roem un­seated 13-term in­cum­bent Robert G. Mar­shall to be­come the Vir­ginia del­e­gate for Prince Wil­liam County.

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