McClellan wins special election for Virginia’s 4th District

Democrat Jennifer McClellan defeated her Republican opponent in a special election Tuesday to win a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, where she will be the first Black woman to represent Virginia in Congress.

McClellan, a veteran state legislator from Richmond, prevailed over pastor and Navy veteran Leon Benjamin in the race for the blue-leaning 4th District, which has its population center in the capital city and stretches south to the North Carolina border.

The seat was open after the death of Democratic Rep. Donald McEachin in November. McEachin died weeks after being elected to a fourth term after a long fight with the secondary efforts of colorectal cancer.

A 50-year-old corporate attorney, McClellan has represented parts of the Richmond area in the General Assembly since 2006, when she joined the House of Delegates. In December, she handily secured the Democratic nomination for the 4th District race in a four-way firehouse primary.

RICHMOND, VA - DECEMBER 20: State Sen. Jennifer McClellan greets voters at Dogtown Dance Studio during the 4th District Democratic primary in Richmond, Virginia on December 20, 2022. (Photo by Ryan M. Kelly for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

A native of central Virginia, McClellan said in an interview ahead of the election that the history she will make as the first Black woman to represent the state in Congress carries extra weight because of her family’s history in the Jim Crow South.

Her father’s grandfather had to take a literacy test and find three white people to vouch for him just to be able to register to vote, she said. Her dad and his father paid poll taxes and her mother, now 90, didn’t vote until after the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

"It’s a huge honor, and responsibility, to ensure that I’m not the last," she said.

READ MORE: Jennifer McClellan wins Democratic 'firehouse primary' for the late Rep. Donald McEachin's Virginia House seat

At the Statehouse, McClellan has cultivated a reputation as a deeply knowledgeable, widely respected consensus builder and legislator. A skilled debater with a polished, reserved style, she’s sponsored many of Democrats’ top legislative priorities in recent years, including bills that expanded voting access and abortion rights and legislation that set ambitious clean energy goals.

Dominic Bascone, a state employee, said Tuesday after casting his ballot in Richmond that he follows the work of the General Assembly closely and has been impressed with how much McClellan has accomplished in her time there.

"If she wins, it would be sad to see her go because I feel like she’s done a lot of good," Bascone said.

A mother of two school-aged children, she was the first delegate to be pregnant and give birth while in office.

McClellan also followed in McEachin’s footsteps when she moved from the House up to the state Senate. She announced her candidacy for a seat he previously held after he was first elected to Congress in 2016. She easily won a January 2017 special election.

In 2021, McClellan was part of the crowded Democratic field seeking the party’s nomination for governor, which Terry McAuliffe won.

Where results stand after Election Day 2022 in DC, Maryland, Virginia and beyond

McClellan has been active in the state Democratic party since she was in college and met her husband, David Mills, through politics. They were married by U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, a mentor and adviser of McClellan’s.

The general election contest between McClellan and Benjamin, a far-right candidate who as a commentator has espoused conspiracy theories and previously lost twice to McEachin, was not seen as competitive. McClellan far outraised Benjamin and had a structural advantage in the heavily Democratic, majority-minority district.

McClellan’s victory Tuesday will set up another special election at a future date to fill her seat in the General Assembly.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.