Democrat wins special election for House seat from Virginia

February 22, 2023

Democrat Jennifer McClellan beat GOP challenger Leon Benjamin on Tuesday in a special election to become the first Black woman elected to Congress from Virginia.

McClellan was heavily favored to win the House race, which will not change the balance of power in the House because she is replacing Democrat Rep. Donald McEachin, who died of cancer a few days after being re-elected in November.

McEachin's widow, Richmond prosecutor Colette McEachin, endorsed her in the race during the primary, and McClellan remembered McEachin in her acceptance speech.

McClellan's win mean a record number of women serving in the House, as well as a record number of Black women at 28. Only 22 states had elected Black women to Congress before Virginia.

Her background

McClellan, 50, was a state senator in Virginia prior to her national win and spent 17 years working in the Virginia General Assembly, where she was known as a refined but strong debater who knew how to get things done.

She spearheaded the Voting Rights Act of Virginia and was also a major player behind the Virginia Clean Economy Act. In total, she helped pass 350 pieces of legislation during her tenure.

When asked, McClellan said her strategy in working with Republicans would be to listen.

"Focusing on solving problems, finding common ground where you can't, and if you can't [find] it, then just pushing forward for what's best for your constituents and the country," she said while still campaigning last month.

Historic election

At least some of her voters were aware of the historic nature of her election.

“Historical. Had to be a part of it,” voter Rashida Mitchell said as she voted for McClellan. “She’s done great things for the city of Richmond, for the commonwealth as a whole.”

During her time in the state assembly, she was the first delegate to serve while pregnant and give birth after being elected in 2006. She now has two school-aged children.

McClellan has been involved with politics since college and met her husband David Mills through that interest.

McClellan connected to Sen. Tim Kaine

She counts as a long-time mentor and friend Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), who predicted her win and lauded her credentials. Kaine was also the one who married McClellan and Mills at the time.

“She’s a hard worker, does the homework, really gets into the details,” Kaine told reporters. “She’s very firm in her convictions, but she’s a civil, courteous person who doesn’t push anybody away.”

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