Jennifer McClellan has won the Democratic nomination for Virginia’s 4th Congressional District in the special election to succeed the late Rep. Donald McEachin, the commonwealth’s Democratic Party announced early Thursday morning in a news release, putting her in prime position to become the first Black woman to represent the Old Dominion in Congress.
McEachin died in November just weeks after winning reelection.
McClellan defeated fellow state Sen. Joe Morrissey and two other candidates in Tuesday’s “firehouse primary,” which was conducted by party officials across a handful of pop-up voting locations in the Richmond-area district. She took 85% of the vote to Morrissey’s 14%, according to the Virginia Democratic Party news release. McClellan enters the February 21 special election against Republican Leon Benjamin as the favorite for a safely Democratic seat that President Joe Biden would have carried by 36 points in 2020.
“Tuesday’s party-run process saw historic turnout with 27,900 votes cast, making it the largest party-run nomination process in the history of the Democratic Party of Virginia” the release stated. “Voter turnout even exceeded the last state-run primary in VA-04, when 15,728 votes were cast.”
At a news conference Thursday with Virginia Democratic Party officials, McClellan said she was ready “to bring a new perspective to the Virginia delegation that has never had a Black woman sitting at the table.”
She paid tribute to McEachin, whom she called a friend and mentor, and recalled voting barriers her family members previously faced – including the poll tax her father and grandfather had to pay to be able to vote, the literacy test her great-grandfather had to take, and “the fact that the women in my family did not vote until after 1965. I stand on their shoulders today.”
“I stand on the shoulders of Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to Congress. I stand on the shoulders of John Mercer Langston, the first Black man sent to Congress from Virginia in the 4th Congressional District,” she added.
McClellan, who finished third in the 2021 Democratic primary for governor, had the support of party leaders and groups ranging from the political arm of the Congressional Progressive Caucus to the moderate-backing Democratic Majority for Israel PAC. Democratic members of the commonwealth’s congressional delegation had endorsed her, as did Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney and other local officials.
Morrissey’s feuds with the Virginia Democratic Party establishment may have been part of his appeal among some disenchanted partisans, but he was dogged by his controversial history, including his resignation from the state House in 2014 after a misdemeanor conviction for contributing to the delinquency of a minor – a 17-year-old part-time staffer at his law office with whom he had sex and exchanged nude photos. He was in his mid-50s at the time, but has argued, according to a local report, that he believed the woman was 18. (Morrissey has since married the woman and they have several children.) Morrissey has also been stripped of his law license – twice – and remains disbarred following a 2019 state Supreme Court decision to uphold its revocation.
Benjamin, a Navy veteran and pastor, won the GOP nomination at a party canvass on Saturday. This is his third bid for the seat, after losing to McEachin last month and in 2020.
This story has been updated with additional reaction.
CNN’s Renée Rigdon contributed to this report.