State Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, made history on Tuesday as the first Black woman elected to congress in Virginia when she claimed victory in the 4th congressional district special election.
McClellan was heavily favored to win the democratic-leaning district and captured over 74% of the votes to beat Republican pastor and Navy veteran, Leon Benjamin.
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin called the special election to fill the seat of Rep. Donald McEachin, who died in November. McClellan described McEachin as a long time friend, and his wife, Colette, was among McClellan’s endorsers.
“I cannot start without first paying homage to our dear friend Donald McEachin and thank him for his service, for his mentorship,” McClellan said during her victory speech. “Thank Colette for sharing him with us and for giving me her blessing to embark on this journey to carry on his legacy, he is with us.”
McClellan has represented Richmond in the Virginia General Assembly for over 17 years. She ran for governor in 2021 and lost the democratic nomination to Terry McAuliffe, but easily won the democratic nomination to succeed McEachin with nearly 85% of the votes in a primary last December.
Throughout her time serving in the assembly, McClellan has boosted her campaign platform with legislative priorities such as proposing a constitutional amendment for reproductive freedom following the overturn of Roe v. Wade. McClellan has also championed expanding voting access in Virginia, sponsoring the Voting Rights Act of Virginia.
McClellan plans on continuing to fight for the same issues in Congress and credited her family as inspiring her political career, she said.
“There are moments when I realized I’m fighting the same fights as my parents, my grandparents and my great grandparents,” McClellan said during her victory speech. “But you know what keeps me going: I fight those fights so they don't have to.”
McClellan’s supporters, including several of her former colleagues from the Virginia House of Delegates, were energized by her victory and cheered as she entered the room to Katy Perry’s “Roar” at an election watch party on Feb. 21.
“She is really the kind of person that digs deep into an issue,” said Melodie Thigpen, one of McClellan’s supporters. “She wants to understand the policy that can be made to make something better.”
Natalie Shorter, a Democratic candidate for Virginia’s 19th House District, praised McClellan as a lawmaker who backs her words up with actions.
“She’s not some wannabe that doesn’t walk the walk and talk the talk,” Shorter said. “She is the change that she wants to .
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Benjamin, who has never held elected office, centered his campaign around parental rights in education, improving the economy and supporting the police. In contrast to McClellan, Benjamin believes the right to life begins at conception and considers himself “pro-life,” he said.
This is the third time Benjamin lost the seat after losing to McEachin in 2020 and 2022. McEachin declined to debate Benjamin last year after he refused to concede his 2020 loss in which McEachin defeated him with over 61% of the votes. McClellan and Benjamin did not meet for a joint public appearance leading up to the election.
Benjamin did not provide a comment on the election results before the publication deadline.
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