The Bulletin

McClellan beats Benjamin in special election for Virginia congressional seat

By: - February 21, 2023 7:45 pm

State Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, hugs a supporter at the polls in Henrico, Virginia, as she campaigned Tuesday to fill the Richmond-area congressional seat left open by the death of U.S. Rep. Donald McEachin. (Sarah Vogelsong / Virginia Mercury)

State Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, defeated Republican pastor Leon Benjamin in Tuesday’s special election for a Richmond-centered seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, a victory that will make her Virginia’s first Black congresswoman.

McClellan, a corporate attorney who has championed progressive causes like abortion access and curbing climate change over 17 years in the Virginia General Assembly, cruised to victory in the heavily Democratic 4th Congressional District, with the Associated Press and other news outlets calling the race for her less than 30 minutes after the polls closed. 

McClellan will succeed the late Rep. Donald McEachin, who died in November after battling colorectal cancer

McEachin had defeated Benjamin in the last two election cycles in the 4th District, which runs from the Richmond region to Petersburg and parts of Southside Virginia.

“Jennifer McClellan’s history-making victory as the first Black woman to be elected to Congress from Virginia will have ripple effects across the Commonwealth,” Democratic Party of Virginia Chairwoman Susan Swecker said in a news release Tuesday night. “Her leadership will expand upon the outstanding progress and advocacy for which we remember Congressman A. Donald McEachin.”

Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, campaigns for governor in Richmond ahead of the primary. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

McClellan raised her profile by running for governor in 2021, finishing third in a five-way Democratic primary dominated by former Gov. Terry McAuliffe. 

Despite that disappointing result, McClellan’s path to Congress has been decisive. Just before Christmas, her supporters propelled her to a lopsided firehouse primary win over Sen. Joe Morrissey, D-Richmond, as she locked up the Democratic nomination for the vacant seat. 

Her race against Benjamin wasn’t particularly eventful. Campaign finance reports showed McClellan dominating the Republican in fundraising.

It’s unclear when McClellan will officially be sworn in to the new job. The General Assembly is in the final week of its 2023 legislative session, and McClellan is expected to continue voting in the statehouse until the results of Tuesday’s election are finalized.

The outcome will also mean more jockeying among Richmond-area Democrats looking to move up and fill the Virginia Senate seat McClellan is leaving behind.

Dels. Dawn Adams, D-Richmond, and Lamont Bagby, D-Henrico, have expressed interest in running for the Senate job, as has Democratic activist Alexsis Rodgers.


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Graham Moomaw
Graham Moomaw

A veteran Virginia politics reporter, Graham grew up in Hillsville and Lynchburg, graduating from James Madison University and earning a master's degree in journalism from the University of Maryland. Before joining the Mercury in 2019, he spent six years at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, most of that time covering the governor's office, the General Assembly and state politics. He also covered city hall and politics at The Daily Progress in Charlottesville.