Democrat Jennifer McClellan is set to make history as the first black woman elected to represent Virginia in Congress, NBC News reported Tuesday.
McClellan, a state senator, defeated Republican Leon Benjamin in Tuesday’s special election in the 4th Congressional District. She would fill the seat of Democratic Rep. Donald McEachin, who died of cancer shortly after winning re-election in November.
“It still blows my mind that we’re going to be the first in 2023,” McClellan said in an interview with NBC News. “My ancestors worked really hard to get a seat at that table, and now not only will I have a seat at the table in Congress, I’ll be able to bring that policy-making table to communities that have Has never really had a voice before.”
McClellan was strongly favored to win in the blue district that covers Richmond and reaches counties bordering North Carolina. President Joe Biden won 67.1% of the vote in 2020 and the non-partisan Cook Political Report rated the House race Solid Democrat.
McClellan will join 29 other black women currently serving in the House. There is no black woman in the Senate.
“I feel a responsibility to make sure I’m not the last,” she said.
McClellan served 11 years in the House of Representatives and has been a member of the State Senate since 2017. McClellan ran for governor in 2021, losing in a five-person primary to Terry McAuliffe, who ultimately lost to Republican Glenn Youngkin.
McClellan’s campaign focused on her legislative victories, highlighting voting rights and efforts to protect domestic workers—issues that matched her family’s experiences and that she said helped shape her policy views.
She said her commitment to voting rights stems partly from the challenges family members face in their voting efforts. She said polling officials had tried to prevent her great-grandfather from voting in Alabama because of his efforts as a black community leader and teacher. She also said that her grandfather was forced to take a literacy test before he could vote.
“I brought those experiences and those stories with me into the public policy arena,” McClellan said, adding that her family’s struggles enabled her to be “a voice that had long been missing in the halls of the General Assembly. “
In 2021, as Republican-led states passed legislation to restrict voting rights, McClellan co-sponsored Virginia’s Voting Rights Act to protect elements of the Voting Rights Act, which was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013. I was cancelled.
As a state senator, McClellan also helped pass a domestic workers’ bill of rights and has said that as a congresswoman, she plans to pursue similar legislation, albeit in a Republican-controlled state. Such a bill would likely fail in the House.
During the election campaign, she highlighted a family background with roots as domestic workers until her mother became the first in her family to continue her education beyond the eighth grade.
McClellan sees her victory as a continuation of that fight.
“I realize that in many ways, I am fighting the same battle that my mother and my grandmother and my great-grandmother fought, and instead of getting discouraged or giving up on that, I dig deeper,” McClellan said. “I have to keep fighting those fights so my daughter doesn’t have to.”
McClellan’s campaign also touched on abortion rights, a major issue for Democrats in the previous year’s midterm elections, in which McClellan supported Roe v. Pledged his commitment to support the passage of a federal law codifying Wade.
Benjamin, a clergyman and Navy veteran who is also black, had portrayed himself as an anti-abortion candidate opposed to teaching important race theory in classrooms and an advocate for religious liberty.
Benjamin, who lost twice to McEachin, refused to accept his election loss in 2020, citing election irregularities.
Last month, Benjamin – who campaigned on a message that division was destroying America – faced backlash over a Facebook post from 2011 in which he promoted New Life Harvest Church, where he is a pastor, and asked people to Urged to bring “sick, sick”, gay, lesbian, gay, transvestite, bipolar, alcoholic, drug addict friends and loved ones.
MSNBC’s Jonathan Capehart pressed Benjamin on the issue during a January interview, asking him how he would fulfill a campaign promise to serve as a “bridge” in Congress in light of his social media posts. .
“I think LGBTQ and gays are dealing with higher gas prices, inflation, higher crime, education,” Benjamin said. “I don’t think my opponent has compassion for all people, but I do.”