By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
Governor Glenn Youngkin has set February 21 as the date for the Special Election to fill the U.S. House District seat now vacant due to the death of Congressman Donald McEachin.
High-ranking state lawmakers such as Lionell Spruill and potential candidates for the seat were camped out in Richmond on the morning of December 12 awaiting the Governor’s decision.
Spruill told the GUIDE that the governor’s writ calling for the special election requires both parties to nominate a candidate by December 23.
The 4th District includes all or part of 15 cities and counties, stretching from Richmond south to Greensville and Brunswick counties.
The district gets about three-fourths of its votes from the city of Richmond, eastern Chesterfield County, and eastern Henrico. There are no District precincts in the region now. Those once in Chesapeake were drawn into House District 2, according to Spruill.
Now that Youngkin has set the date for the special election, the Democratic and Republican 4th District committees will have to establish processes for nominating their respective candidates. Spruill suspected that the Democrats will use a firehouse nominating process.
There will be a narrow window to campaign because almost two months will be required before the special election to print ballots and provide 45 days of early voting.
An hour after the Governor’s announcement, State House Delegate State Delegate Lamont Bagby, D-Henrico was one of the first to announce his intentions early afternoon of December 12, during a press conference in Richmond.
Bagby is the chair of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus (VLBC).
A press aide for State Senator Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, said her announcement would be coming by mid-week.
McClellan is “very likely to run,” and will announce her plans early this week, spokesman Jared Leopold said December 11.
Bagby’s has lined up support from Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, Henrico County Supervisor Tyrone Nelson, and Del. Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond, according to sources close to the campaign.
Two other Democrats — former Del. Lashrecse Aird, D-Petersburg, and retiring Petersburg City Councilwoman Treska Wilson-Smith — have been mentioned as possible contenders for the seat in a heavily Democratic
congressional district but haven’t declared their candidacies.
Two Republicans already have said they are running— Leon Benjamin, a South Richmond pastor who lost to McEachin badly in 2020 and 2022, and former Mecklenburg County School Board Chairman Dale Sturdifen, a U.S. Marine Corps combat veteran and retired Virginia State Police officer from Clarksville.
The timing of the election will be especially delicate for McClellan, who represents a potentially decisive vote in the Virginia Senate for Democrats to block attempts by Youngkin and Republicans to ban most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
Jen Kiggans’ exit from the Senate is an opportunity for Democrats to increase their 21-19 edge in the Senate to 22-18 — allowing a cushion in case Sen. Joe Morrissey, D-Richmond, were to vote for abortion restrictions or abstain. For Republicans, keeping the seat would allow
them to potentially force a tie vote that Lt. Gov. Winsome
Earle-Sears, an anti-abortion conservative, would break.
In the 4th District special election, Democrats are expected to hold the advantage, but the fight for the party’s nomination is likely to be a heavyweight battle.
McClellan, who sought the Democratic nomination for governor last year, is well-liked in Democratic party circles and has a reputation as a skilled legislator. But some party insiders say the race will test her grassroots support,
“something that was lacking” in McClellan’s gubernatorial bid last year, in which she finished third.
Bagby, one source said, has a strong grassroots network and powerful allies.
On the Republican side, Benjamin represents the MAGA wing of the party, aligned with former President Donald Trump. He has yet to concede his first loss to McEachin, by more than 91,000 votes in 2020.
McEachin recently won reelection by almost 74,000 votes in November 2022.