Virginia Democrat Wins Special Election to Replace Late Congressman — and Makes History in the Process

State Sen. Jennifer McClellan's victory prevents Republicans from widening their House majority, and puts her on track to become the first Black woman to represent Virginia in Congress

State Sen. Jennifer McClellan
Jennifer McClellan. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty

Democratic lawmaker Jennifer McClellan is projected to defeat conservative pastor Leon Benjamin in Virginia's 4th Congressional District special election, preventing Republicans from widening their slim majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.

McClellan's victory also puts her at the center of a statewide milestone: electing the first Black woman to represent Virginia in Congress.

The special House election on Tuesday sought to find a replacement for late Rep. 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.

"Don was a fighter," President Joe Biden said in November. "He fought for justice, for civil rights, and for communities that are often left behind. Thanks to Don's leadership and tireless advocacy, we passed historic legislation to combat the climate crisis and advance environmental justice."

Congressman Donald McEachin (D-VA) speaks during a press conference by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic Representatives with leaders of many faiths on the Build Back Better Act. The legislation contains many of the Bident Administration's policy priorities, including social programs like child care subsidies and paid leave, as well as climate solutions. Pelosi, faith leaders speak on the Build Back Better Act, Washington, United States - 20 Oct 2021
Late U.S. Rep. Donald McEachin. Allison Bailey/NurPhoto/Shutterstock

This won't be the first time McClellan, 50, follows in McEachin's footsteps. Both received Juris Doctors from the University of Virginia School of Law and practiced law before launching political careers in the Virginia House of Delegates. McEachin was elected to the Virginia Senate in 2008, and nine years later, when he elevated from state politics to U.S. Congress, McClellan filled his state Senate seat.

Now, under more somber circumstances, McClellan will once again be tasked with carrying on McEachin's legacy, this time in Washington.

On Tuesday, she still showed up to work in the Virginia state Senate.

Congressional candidate, Leon Benjamin
Leon Benjamin. Zach D Roberts/NurPhoto via AP

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Benjamin, McClellan's Republican opponent, was always the underdog as a conservative candidate in Virginia's 4th Congressional District, which historically leans Democrat and spans from Richmond, the state capital, down to the North Carolina border.

Though Benjamin had not held public office, he highlighted his experience as a pastor, veteran and business coach on the campaign trail.

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