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Jennifer McClellan is poised to become Virginia's first Black woman in Congress

Virginia state Sen. Jennifer McClellan speaks in support for the Equal Rights Amendment at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on Oct. 21, 2021. McClellan has won the Democratic nomination to succeed the late A. Donald McEachin in Congress, party officials said.
Andrew Harnik
/
AP
Virginia state Sen. Jennifer McClellan speaks in support for the Equal Rights Amendment at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on Oct. 21, 2021. McClellan has won the Democratic nomination to succeed the late A. Donald McEachin in Congress, party officials said.

FALLS CHURCH, Va. — Virginia state Sen. Jennifer McClellan has overwhelmingly won the Democratic nomination to succeed the late A. Donald McEachin in Congress, party officials said Thursday.

McClellan won the nomination 85% of the vote in Tuesday's firehouse primary over Sen. Joe Morrissey, who netted just 14%, and two other candidates.

She will be the overwhelming favorite in the heavily Democratic 4th Congressional District when a special election is held Feb. 21.

"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," according to the party's website.

Republicans on Saturday picked Leon Benjamin, a Richmond native, pastor and Navy veteran who has twice unsuccessfully challenged McEachin, as their nominee.

If McClellan wins in February, she will become the first Black woman to represent Virginia in Congress.

At a news conference Thursday morning, McClellan said she plans to "bring a new perspective to the Virginia delegation that has never had a Black woman sitting at the table."

McClellan, 49, a corporate attorney, has represented parts of the Richmond area in the General Assembly since 2006. She ran for governor in 2021 but lost the Democratic primary to Terry McAuliffe.

If elected to Congress, she would represent the state's 4th District, a majority-minority district based in Richmond that stretches south to the North Carolina border.

Establishment Democrats coalesced around McClellan in her campaign against Morrissey, a populist and twice-disbarred former prosecutor-turned-defense attorney who's proved remarkably resilient over a three-decade career in electoral politics.

Morrissey had accused Democrats of working against him in planning Tuesday's primary, which was held on short notice after McEachin's death Nov. 28 after a battle with colon cancer.

Morrissey issued a statement Thursday congratulating McClellan and promising to support her.

"Virginia has never sent a Black woman to congress. That will change next year. This is progress of which we all can all be proud," he said.

McEachin's widow, Colette — herself an elected official in Richmond — was among a number of high-profile endorsers of McClellan. Del. Lamont Bagby dropped out of the race last week in a move widely seen as an effort to prevent Morrissey from emerging victorious on a fractured ballot.

McClellan fought back tears at Thursday's news conference when asked about McEachin, whom she considered a mentor.

"I feel him here," she said. "I will carry on his legacy."

The primary was run by the Democratic Party, with balloting at eight sites located throughout the district. Virginia voters do not register by political party, so voting was open to all registered voters willing to sign a pledge indicating they are a Democrat and intend to support the party's nominee.

Voting occurred Tuesday but the party did not begin counting ballots until Wednesday. Counting continued through the night Wednesday, until the party announced results around 4 a.m. Thursday.

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The Associated Press