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McClellan won't 'sit on the backbench' if elected to 4th District seat

Jennifer McClellan speaks into a microphone during an outdoor event.
Crixell Matthews
State Sen. Jennifer McClellan took 84% of the vote during Democrats' Wednesday primary in the 4th District. (File photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

This story was updated 12:37 p.m. Dec. 22.

Democrats announced state Sen. Jennifer McClellan won a Tuesday primary. She will face Republican Leon Benjamin in a February special election to represent the 4th District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

McClellan said Thursday she is "not going to sit on the backbench" but will instead work on bills she championed in Virginia — just at the national level.

"We got the Voting Rights Act of Virginia passed. We need to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. We got the Reproductive Health Protection Act passed here," she said. "We need to at a minimum, codify Roe v. Wade at the federal level. We got the Pregnant Worker Fairness Act, got the Virginia Clean Economy Act passed."

McClellan also said Congress will be a good forum for supporting climate change legislation, an issue that can't be addressed "on a state-by-state basis."

"Every priority that I have had here, which is rooted in solving problems and helping people," she said, "will be the same priorit[ies] I carry to Washington.”

The announcement of McClellan’s win came in an email at 4:11 a.m. Thursday, after local volunteers had been counting votes since Wednesday morning. 

“They’ve been counting since about 10 a.m. this morning,” Liam Watson, acting press secretary for Virginia Democrats, told VPM News Wednesday. “And I believe the plan is to continue counting until a nominee emerges.” 

Virginia Democrats said 27,900 votes were cast, outpacing the previous state-run primary.

Rep. Donald McEachin held the 4th District seat from 2017 until Nov. 28, when he died of complications from cancer. The 61-year-old won reelection earlier in November. 

McClellan, who was first elected to the House of Delegates in 2005 and then to the Senate in 2017, took about 84% of the vote. Sen. Joe Morrissey garnered about 13%. Joseph Preston and Tavorise Marks each earned less than 1% of the vote. 

Both Marks and Morrissey criticized the primary process. 

During the weekslong campaign for the open house seat, McClellan received broad party support, including endorsements from Sen. Tim Kaine and Colette McEachin — Richmond commonwealth's attorney and the widow of Rep. McEachin.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi also tweeted her support on Monday. 

McClellan — who could become the first Black woman to represent Virginia in the House — will face off against Republican Leon Benjamin in the Feb. 21 special election. 

VPM News is the staff byline for articles and podcasts written and produced by multiple reporters and editors.