9 Nov 2017

Transgender lawmaker elected, ousting 'chief homophobe'

7:36 am on 9 November 2017

Voters in the US state of Virginia have elected their first transgender state legislator.

Danica Roem, a 32-year-old journalist, ousted pro-Trump incumbent Republican Bob Marshall.

Mr Marshall had described himself as Virginia's "chief homophobe".

Danica Roem will represent a district containing the outer suburbs of Washington DC.

Danica Roem will represent a district containing the outer suburbs of Washington DC. Photo: AFP

Democrats swept governor's races in Virginia and New Jersey and made significant gains elsewhere in the off-year elections. Pundits and media figures debated whether the results signalled a disenchantment with US President Donald Trump and a voting trend.

The district that elected Ms Roem, which includes outer suburbs of Washington DC, strongly supported Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.

Ms Roem championed gay, transgender and immigrant rights during her campaign, but the race mostly focused on the state's transport infrastructure.

Mr Marshall had a strong record of opposing equality legislation.

The veteran Republican co-sponsored a 2006 Virginia constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

He also introduced a bill that would have banned transgender school students from using the bathrooms of their choice.

Ms Roem is not the first transgender state lawmaker in the United States. Stacie Laughton won a seat in New Hampshire's legislature in 2012, but she resigned before taking office.

A closeted transgender woman, Althea Garrison, won a seat in the Massachusetts legislature in 1992. Ms Garrison was later outed by a conservative newspaper.

Also on Tuesday former television anchor and Democrat Chris Hurst, whose girlfriend was fatally shot on-air in 2015, unseated a Republican incumbent in Virginia's House of Delegates.

Mr Hurst's girlfriend, Alison Parker, and Adam Ward were killed by a former employee of their station WDBJ in Roanoke while broadcasting.

Democrats win in battleground state

Ralph Northam won the race for governor of Virginia, and Phil Murphy, a former Goldman Sachs executive, won the statehouse in New Jersey.

Mr Northam, an Army medic in the first Gulf war, came into the race with a significant lead, but Republican Ed Gillespie hammered him on issues like crime and immigration. Mr Northam ended up defeating Mr Gillespie by nine percentage points.

Mr Gillespie, a lobbyist and the former chairman of the Republican National Committee, distanced himself from Donald Trump but ran a campaign that had shades of the president's message.

After the Democrat's victory, Mr Trump tweeted blame at Mr Gillespie, writing that he "worked hard but did not embrace me or what I stand for".

How the Democrats fared in Virginia 'should be concerning' to Republicans

Analysis by Anthony Zurcher, BBC News, Washington

Democrats finally have a victory of the non-moral kind. After coming up short in a handful of special elections across the US, they went to the polls in a battleground state and posted a huge win.

How the Democrats, from governor candidate Ralph Northam on down, swept through election night in Virginia should be particularly concerning to Republicans across the US.

Turnout from Democratic supporters surged. They ran up huge margins with college-educated voters and residents in the wealthy Northern Virginia suburbs. The legions of rural voters who turned out for Donald Trump in 2016 were a non-factor.

Democrats won legislative races that were considered to be in play only in the rosiest of Democratic wave scenarios. Exit polls show a plurality of Virginians went to the polls to send a message to Mr Trump. Their top issue was healthcare. At least in Virginia, the president's dismal approval ratings translated into ballot-box poison.

The stage is now set for the midterm elections in 2018. Republicans will have a year to brace for what could be an anti-Trump tsunami forming on the horizon. What they - and Mr Trump - do next could decide their fate.

- BBC / Reuters