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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

McClellan wins in Virginia and will be state’s first Black woman in Congress

Jennifer McClellan centered her campaign message on the legislation she spearheaded as a state senator

By Maya King

Jennifer McClellan, a veteran Democratic state senator, won a special election for Virginia’s 4th Congressional District on Tuesday, according to The Associated Press, making her the first Black woman to represent the state in Congress.

McClellan, 50, will fill the seat formerly held by Rep. Donald McEachin, who died Nov. 28 of colorectal cancer. She has cited McEachin as a mentor and was highly favored to win in the safely Democratic district, which stretches from Richmond, where she is based, to the rural counties along Virginia’s border with North Carolina.

She defeated Leon Benjamin, a Republican Navy veteran and local pastor. Benjamin lost to McEachin by nearly 30 points in November.

Virginia Democrats, including the party’s entire congressional delegation and many local and statewide officials, were quick to coalesce around McClellan’s candidacy during the primary in late December. Even though the accelerated election calendar set by Gov. Glenn Youngkin left her campaign with less than two weeks to turn out primary voters, she still won with nearly 85% of the vote, according to the state party.

McClellan centered her campaign on legislation she spearheaded as a state senator — issues she championed, like voting rights, environmental protection and abortion access, often dovetailed with the national Democratic platform.

“I passed legislation to protect our right to vote and our right to a clean environment. I led the fight for our reproductive freedom,” McClellan said in a television ad. “I’ll take that same fight with me to Congress.”

In a January opinion essay for Essence magazine, McClellan also said that her identity as a Black female lawmaker would help shape her policy positions.

“This election isn’t just about my lived experiences, it’s about elevating the experiences of so many whose voices have not been heard in our government,” she wrote.

McClellan, a lawyer who is also the vice chair of the Virginia legislature’s influential Black caucus, has been frequently promoted as a rising star among state Democrats. This is her second run for statewide office: In 2021, she fell short in a crowded primary for governor.

Susan Swecker, chair of the Democratic Party of Virginia, said in a statement Tuesday night: “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.

“Her leadership will expand upon the outstanding progress and advocacy for which we remember Congressman A. Donald McEachin — I cannot think of a better way to honor his life and legacy than with the new generation of leadership that Congresswoman-elect Jennifer McClellan will bring to Washington.”

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