In the wee hours of the morning yesterday, David L. Englin's victory party was still going on. In the living room of "Campaign Central" -- Englin's tiny house in Alexandria's Del Ray neighborhood -- exhausted volunteers from the candidate's primary campaign for the House of Delegates were checking late vote totals on their laptops.
They were running out of beer.
Englin was outside on the lawn, sweaty in the heat and fielding calls on his cell phone -- with much to celebrate.
After an energetic campaign, the 30-year-old former Air Force officer beat five candidates in an upset win for the Democratic nomination in the 45th House District, which consists of eastern Alexandria and parts of Arlington and Fairfax counties. He's now the presumptive favorite in the Democratic stronghold when he takes on Republican Christopher J.T. Gregerson, a defense consultant, on Nov. 8.
"The key to our success was building the grass roots," Englin said yesterday. "It's just persistence and asking people to get involved."
Throughout the night, Englin's cell phone buzzed with a stream of congratulatory calls from party leaders, many of whom had backed the better-known candidates in the race, such as E.T. "Libby" Garvey, chairman of the Arlington County School Board.
"The energy his campaign generated dwarfed that of his establishment-backed opponents," said Andrew M. Rosenberg, an Englin supporter and former candidate for U.S. House of Representatives.
"He didn't have any elected officials or party machinery behind him," Rosenberg said. "David was the outsider candidate."
Englin also had to face the frank criticism of the well-loved local politician he hopes to replace, Del. Marian Van Landingham (D), who is fighting cancer and announced her retirement late last year.
Van Landingham said publicly she was voting for Garvey and voiced concern -- echoed by many party insiders -- that Englin had lived in Alexandria for only two years and had done little volunteer work for the community.
Critics also say he has exaggerated his input on the city's Affordable Housing Advisory Committee.
"Marian preferred Libby to me . . . but this race wasn't about age or who has lived here the longest; it was about who has a strong vision for the future and who can really carry on the strong progressive legacy that Marian leaves," Englin said. "Since the moment I've set foot in Alexandria, I've done everything I could to help in a variety of capacities."
To win, Englin said, he relied on a campaign strategy inspired by former presidential candidate Howard Dean: trying to build the party's base while holding to its core liberal principles. It was a risky strategy for a Democratic primary where generally only party stalwarts make it to the polls and most of the candidates do their politicking at private parties and fundraisers.
At a "get out the vote" barbecue rally at a local public housing complex in the spring, for example, the Englin campaign registered just four voters.
Still, in funding, the campaign was second among the candidates. And it was flush with young volunteers -- many of them unpaid interns from local colleges -- who crowded into Englin's living room to work six phone lines nearly every day.
"This house is like something out of 'The West Wing,' " said Molly Graves, 43, a landscape architect and supporter who had come to celebrate Englin's victory. "All these volunteers and pizza boxes and phones. The entire living room has been turned over to campaign staff."
Volunteer Tania Blagrove, 47, a neighbor and part-time French instructor, explained that she had plied the kids working the phones with homemade vegetarian lasagna and rice and beans a couple of nights each week.
In the Englins' front yard, the nominee beamed at his wife, Shayna, then pulled her over for a victory kiss. She giggled.
"They weren't just a money machine," Blagrove said. "They were reaching out to people. It was exciting to see these young people get involved."