By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
Virginia State Democratic Senator Jennifer McClellan won the special election held Feb. 21 to fill the vacant U.S. 4th Congressional seat against Black Conservative Republican and Pastor Leon Benjamin.
According to the Virginia Department of Elections, with 289 of the 302 precincts reporting, McClellan had 80,752 votes compared to 27,940 votes cast for her opponent.
She is the first African-American woman to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Virginia.
Once McClellan is sworn in, there will be a record 28 Black women in Congress.
McClellan, 50, is quoted in an article published Feb. 27 in The Hill publication as saying, “It still blows my mind that there are firsts in 2023, but it is a tremendous honor and a tremendous responsibility.
“It’s an honor knowing that I am my ancestors’ wildest dreams and I stand on their shoulders. To be the first Black woman from Virginia, the birthplace of both American democracy and American slavery and massive resistance, is poetic justice.”
McClellan said even with her historical win, there remains a responsibility to ensure she is not the last Black woman to make history – in her state, or across the country.
“I think the first step is to support the Black women that are leading at the state level, at the local level, in the party, who are building a bench and are building the experience needed to run at higher levels. And then when they step forward to run, pay homage to that experience and work.”
On February 25, a firehouse nomination election was held to select candidates to replace McClellan. Democrat State Delegate Lamont Bagby and Republican Stephen Imholt emerged as their respective parties’ nominees.
The candidates will compete in a March 28 general election for a brief but potentially consequential stint in Richmond’s closely divided upper chamber.
The winner of the Senate seat could help determine whether Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin can wrest any major policy wins this year out of a divided legislature.
Bagby, a state delegate since 2015 and chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, dominated a three-way firehouse primary over Del. Dawn Adams (D-Richmond) and activist Alexsis Rodgers, winning 72 percent of the vote, the Democratic Party of Virginia announced on Twitter late Sunday.
Imholt, 70, a retired technology consultant, was the only Republican to seek his party’s nomination, filing paperwork to declare his candidacy just two days before the party had to name its nominee.
Jennifer McClellan will replace the late Congressman Donald McEachin, who died shortly after his reelection in November following a nine-year battle with colorectal cancer.
McEachin was 61 at the time of his death, only a few weeks shy of completing his third Congressional term.
She will be the third African-American to represent the 4th Congressional District. While McEachin was the second, the first was John Mercer Langston in 1888, who served one term.
A man of mixed race, an American abolitionist, attorney, educator, activist, diplomat, and politician, Mercer was the founding dean of the law school at Howard University, and became the first President of Virginia State University,
He joined five other Black men elected to the U.S. Congress at that time, due to Reconstruction-era political reforms.
Joseph Hayne Rainey, a Republican congressman from South Carolina, was the first African-American elected to serve in the U.S. Congress in 1870.
Five years later, due to the dismantling of the Reconstruction reforms, the number of African-American politicians shrank. The last Black Reconstruction-era Congressman was George Henry, who left office in 1901.