By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
Virginia State Senator Jennifer McClellan overwhelmingly won the Democratic nomination to succeed the late A. Donald McEachin in Congress.
If she wins the special election on February 21 to fill the 4th US. Congressional seat, she will be the first African American woman to represent the state in the U.S. House of Representatives.
McClellan, 49, received 23,661 votes during the December 20 firehouse primary outpacing State Sen. Joe Morrissey, who netted only 3,782, and two other candidates. She will be the favorite in the heavily Democratic 4th Congressional District.
Balloting took place at eight sites located throughout the district.
“Tuesday’s party-run process saw historic turnout with 27,900 votes cast, making it the largest party-run nomination process in the history of the Democratic Party of Virginia,” according to the party’s website.
Three days before the Democrats went to the polls to nominate McClellan, Republicans nominated Leon Benjamin, an African American Richmond native, pastor, and Navy veteran who twice unsuccessfully challenged McEachin, as their nominee.
McClellan is a corporate attorney, who has represented parts of the Richmond area in the General Assembly since 2006. She ran for governor in 2021 but lost the Democratic primary to Terry McAuliffe.
If elected to Congress, she would represent the state’s 4th District, a majority-minority district based in Richmond that stretches south to the North Carolina border.
Establishment Democrats at all levels supported McClellan in her campaign against Morrissey, a populist and twice-disbarred former prosecutor-turned-defense attorney who’s proved to be remarkably resilient over a three-decade career in electoral politics.
Morrissey accused Democrats of working against him in planning Tuesday’s primary. The race for the nomination was on short notice after McEachin’s death on Nov. 28 after a battle with colon cancer.
The key to her victory, party activists say, was that State House Delegate Lamont Bagby dropped out of the race. He announced his bid first.
This was an effort Bagby said to avoid splintering the vote in the multi-candidate race and giving Morrisey an entry.
Delegate Bagby is the Chair of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus and Senator McClellan is the group’s Vice Chair.
Despite his loss, Morrissey congratulated the senator for her historic victory.
According to one media report, the key issue driving her support was abortion. It resonated with women who are still angry over the U.S. Supreme Court’s abolition of the federal protection of abortion rights in its recent vote on Roe Vs. Wade.
Morrissey does not support abortion and this may have inspired voters, especially women, according to one party operative, to throw their support behind McClellan.
McEachin’s widow, Colette, an elected official in Richmond, was among a number of high-profile endorsers of McClellan.
Virginia voters do not register by political party, so voting was open to all registered voters willing to sign a pledge indicating they are a Democrat and intend to support the party’s nominee.
Voting occurred Tuesday but the party did not count begin counting ballots until Wednesday.
In another special election locally, former Virginia Beach City Councilman, Aaron Rouse, a Democrat, and Republican Kevin Adams are running on January 10, 2023 in a special general election for Virginia’s State Senate District 7.
The special election was called after the previous incumbent, Sen. Jennifer Kiggans, a Republican, resigned on November 15, 2022. She defeated Democrat incumbent Elaine Luria, who was seeking reelection to the 2nd U.S. Congressional District seat.
Democratic party operatives are considering that despite Luria losing her 2nd District Congressional seat to Kiggans during the mid-term election on November 8, she did win the 7th Senate district.
This may be the political calculus Rouse and fellow Democrats are considering that motivated him to seek that seat.
New state legislative maps will take effect on January 11, 2023, at the start of the new legislative session. However, this special election will take place under previous district lines.
The current Senate 7th District will be renamed and reconfigured to the new Senate District 22 with a Democratic majority, thanks to 2020 redistricting.
Currently, the 22 Senate District is located in Northern Central Virginia. As of January 11, 2023, it will be located in Virginia Beach.
Whoever wins the January 10 contest will have to do it again in June to fill that seat using the new district lines based on the 2020 redistricting.
Also, if Rouse wins that seat on January 10, it will help the Democrats who now have a 21-18 majority to gain another seat in the Senate.
The party hopes to be a firewall against the Republicans’ effort to pass conservative legislation, such as reducing the cut-off point for abortion from 20 to 15 weeks. Governor Youngkin and the Republicans in the House have already planned on introducing such legislation.
Rouse, a former NFL player, has been an at-large member of the Virginia Beach City Council since 2018. Rouse said, “so much is at stake in this upcoming election, from a woman’s fundamental right to choose, which I will fiercely defend, to the efforts that will set us back on voting rights, to addressing climate change, protecting the Chesapeake Bay and waterways, to criminal justice reform.” Rouse listed education as his top priority, including raising teacher salaries and expanding access to preschool. Rouse also listed the economy, healthcare, and public safety as priorities.
His Republican opponent, Kevin Adams is a retired U.S. Navy lieutenant commander who founded and operated a handyman business. Adams said he will “continue working to pass Governor Glenn Youngkin’s pro-veteran agenda, cut taxes, ease regulations, keep our communities safe, and make it easier for small business owners like me to get started and stay in business.”
Adams’ platform includes working to improve education and workforce training, supporting veterans, lowering gas, grocery, and sales taxes, and growing “school funding while shrinking the power of left-wing ideologues.”