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Democrats nominate McClellan to fill McEachin’s seat in Virginia

One-week party-run primary drew nearly 28,000 voters, breaking turnout record but delaying announcement of winner

State Sen. Jennifer McClellan, who succeeded the late Rep. A. Donald McEachin in the legislature when he went to Congress, sought the Democratic nomination to serve the remainder of his term in Virginia's 4th District.
State Sen. Jennifer McClellan, who succeeded the late Rep. A. Donald McEachin in the legislature when he went to Congress, sought the Democratic nomination to serve the remainder of his term in Virginia's 4th District. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Virginia state Sen. Jennifer McClellan overwhelmingly won the Democratic nomination for a February special election in the 4th District, setting herself up to be the state’s first Black woman elected to Congress. 

The state Democratic party said on Twitter Thursday that McClellan won 85 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s party-run election, which broke turnout records and led to a delay in announcing a winner until 4:05 a.m. because volunteers had to count all the ballots. Fellow state Sen. Joe Morrissey had 14 percent, and two other candidates split the rest. 

McClellan will face Leon Benjamin Sr., who won a Republican party canvas over the weekend, on Feb. 21. The district is heavily Democratic, so the nomination is likely to decide the winner of the seat. 

Her win comes after a weeklong primary campaign to fill the remainder of the term that the late Rep. A. Donald McEachin won last month by 30 points. The state’s Democratic establishment and many outside groups backed McClellan.

Voters cast nearly 28,000 ballots Tuesday at eight locations across the Richmond-area district, which party leaders said forced them to print more ballots as the initial 25,000 ordered began to ran out. Candidates must file to be on the ballot in the special election by Friday under an order issued last week by Gov. Glenn Youngkin. 

McClellan has served in the state legislature for 17 years and unsuccessfully sought her party’s nomination for governor in 2021. She succeeded McEachin in the state Senate after he was first elected to Congress. 

If McClellan wins the February election and is quickly sworn into Congress, it could potentially leave an opening in the state Senate to allow Republicans, with the help of moderate Democrats, to advance more conservative legislation, such as restrictions on abortion.

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