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McClellan wins special election for Virginia’s 4th District

Jennifer McClellan will become the first Black woman to represent Virginia in Congress.

RICHMOND, Va. — Democrat Jennifer McClellan defeated her Republican opponent in a special election Tuesday to win a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, where she will be the first Black woman to represent Virginia in Congress.

The 4th District seat was open after the death of Democratic Rep. Donald McEachin in November. McEachin died weeks after being elected to a fourth term after a long fight with the secondary efforts of colorectal cancer. 

Virginia's blue-leaning 4th Congressional District has its population center in Richmond and stretches south to the North Carolina border and east to include the counties of Surry, Sussex, and part of Southampton. McEachin had represented it since 2017.

A 50-year-old corporate attorney, McClellan has represented parts of the Richmond area in the General Assembly since 2006, when she joined the House of Delegates. In December, she handily secured the Democratic nomination for the 4th District race in a four-way firehouse primary.

A native of central Virginia, McClellan said in an interview ahead of the election that the history she will make as the first Black woman to represent the state in Congress carries extra weight because of her family’s history in the Jim Crow South.

Her father’s grandfather had to take a literacy test and find three white people to vouch for him just to be able to register to vote, she said. Her dad and his father paid poll taxes and her mother, now 90, didn’t vote until after the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

“It’s a huge honor, and responsibility, to ensure that I’m not the last,” she said.

At the Statehouse, McClellan has cultivated a reputation as a deeply knowledgeable, widely respected consensus builder and legislator. A skilled debater with a polished, reserved style, she’s sponsored many of Democrats’ top legislative priorities in recent years, including bills that expanded voting access and abortion rights and legislation that set ambitious clean energy goals.

Dominic Bascone, a state employee, said Tuesday after casting his ballot in Richmond that he follows the work of the General Assembly closely and has been impressed with how much McClellan has accomplished in her time there.

“If she wins, it would be sad to see her go because I feel like she’s done a lot of good,” Bascone said.

A mother of two school-aged children, she was the first delegate to be pregnant and give birth while in office.

McClellan also followed in McEachin’s footsteps when she moved from the House up to the state Senate. She announced her candidacy for a seat he previously held after he was first elected to Congress in 2016. She easily won a January 2017 special election.

In 2021, McClellan was part of the crowded Democratic field seeking the party’s nomination for governor, which Terry McAuliffe won.

McClellan has been active in the state Democratic party since she was in college and met her husband, David Mills, through politics. They were married by U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, a mentor and adviser of McClellan’s.

For Benjamin, a Navy veteran who has espoused conspiracy theories about COVID-19 and election fraud, Tuesday's loss marks the third time he has been defeated in running for the 4th District seat. Last fall, he lost to McEachin by 30 points. In 2020, Benjamin also lost to McEachin, that time by 23 points.

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