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Democrats look to close U.S. House gap in Benjamin–McClellan matchup

Dozens of people wait in line to vote in the Democrats' firehouse primary at Diversity Thrift on Dec. 20.
Scott Elmquist
VPM News
Over 27,000 people cast ballots in December's firehouse primary for Democrats. Lines lingered all day long at several of the district's voting sites, like this one at Diversity Thrift in the city.

Polls will be open Tuesday from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Voters in Richmond and Southside Virginia are heading to the polls Tuesday to select a new congressional representative in a race that could narrow Republicans’ control of the U.S. House of Representatives to only nine seats.

State Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D–Richmond) is the heavy favorite against the Rev. Leon Benjamin Sr. in Virginia’s blue-leaning 4th Congressional District. The late Rep. Donald McEachin previously defeated Benjamin twice before by a margin of more than 20%. If McClellan wins the strongly Democratic district, she’d be the first Black woman to represent Virginia in Congress.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin called for the special election following McEachin’s death, due to complications from cancer, a few weeks after winning re-election in November.

In an interview Monday, McClellan said her years in the Virginia’s General Assembly proves she can pick up where McEachin left off. She’s campaigned on major pieces of legislation she ushered through the legislature, including a bill requiring the phase out of carbon from Virginia’s electrical grid and another easing certain restrictions on abortions previously championed by the GOP.

McClellan has framed her candidacy around the 18 years she’s spent in the Virginia’s General Assembly. She’s campaigned on major pieces of legislation ushered through the Legislature, including one bill requiring the phaseout of carbon from Virginia’s electrical grid and another easing certain restrictions on abortions previously championed by the GOP.

“I led the fight for our reproductive freedom,” McClellan said in an ad posted to social media. “I’ll take that same fight to Congress.”

Last month, a federal judge tossed a complaint filed by several district residents to delay the special election from losers in the Democratic primary, who argued that long lines in that contest amounted to voter suppression.

Benjamin trails McClellan in fundraising by more than $850,000, according to the Virginia Public Access Project. But he said in an interview Monday that the district was ready for a new voice.

“We're about standing for life,” Benjamin said. “We're about protecting our communities, protecting our parents and children, protecting our small businesses, and growing businesses and being able to lower inflation, lower taxes, and raise opportunity for more jobs.”

The pastor previously embraced former President Donald Trump’s lies about the 2020 election. Benjamin also claimed without evidence that his own 2020 electoral defeat by a margin of more than 90,000 votes was the product of fraud. Benjamin said Monday he still had “questions” about that election but wouldn’t elaborate. He’s previously called President Joe Biden’s former top medical adviser, Anthony Fauci, “Dr. Death” and said he should be thrown in jail.

Virginia’s 4th Congressional District encompasses the cities of Richmond and Petersburg and stretches south to the North Carolina border. Roughly 42% of voters in the district identify as Black, second only to Virginia's 3rd Congressional District represented by Democratic Rep. Bobby Scott, according to a memo released by the experts who redrew Virginia’s political maps.

Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Voters can find their polling location by visiting the Virginia Department of Elections’ website.

Ben Paviour covers courts and criminal justice for VPM News with a focus on accountability.
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  3. Tavorise Marks joins 4th District primary voter suppression lawsuit
  4. Dems are still counting votes in 4th District primary
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