RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Voters in a Richmond-based Virginia congressional district will settle a special election Tuesday for the open seat previously held by the late Democratic U.S. Rep. Donald McEachin, who died in November shortly after being elected to a fourth term.
Democratic nominee Jennifer McClellan, a veteran state legislator who if elected would be the first Black woman to represent Virginia in Congress, is widely seen as the heavy favorite. She faces Republican pastor Leon Benjamin, a Navy veteran who has espoused conspiracy theories about the coronavirus pandemic and election fraud.
“Jenn’s going to win this race,” U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine declared at a rally Saturday for McClellan in Richmond.
Virginia’s blue-leaning 4th Congressional District has its population center in the capital city and stretches south to the North Carolina border. McEachin had represented it since 2017.
McClellan easily clinched her party’s nomination after a high-speed, one-week campaign in December. She won a four-way firehouse primary with about 85% of the vote.
A 50-year-old corporate attorney, McClellan has represented parts of the Richmond area in the General Assembly since 2006, when she joined the House of Delegates. In 2017, she was elected to the state Senate, filling a seat previously held by McEachin, following his election to Congress. In 2021, she unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for governor.
At the Capitol, McClellan has cultivated a reputation as a deeply knowledgeable legislator and consensus builder. She’s carried many of Democrats’ top legislative priorities in recent years, including bills that expanded voting access and abortion rights and legislation that set ambitious clean energy goals.
During this campaign, McClellan has largely avoided discussing her opponent, whom she has far outraised, focusing instead on touting her record and pushing get-out-the-vote efforts. She and Benjamin have not met for a joint appearance.
Benjamin previously lost twice to McEachin, including by 30 points in 2022.
On the campaign trail and in media appearances, he has pledged if elected to address inflation, reduce government spending and promote school choice. He has also expressed opposition to American support for Ukraine in its war with Russia.
“With the education, with the crime, I can’t keep saying that enough: Families don’t care about Ukraine. Families care about their children’s education and who’s going to keep them from getting shot in the streets,” he said in a recent interview with right-wing radio host John Fredericks.
At Saturday’s rally with Kaine and other elected officials and volunteers, McClellan said that in Congress she would prioritize the same issues she’s worked on at the state level.
“Now I get to go to Congress and fight for reproductive freedom. I get to go to Congress and fight for voting rights, for worker rights, to protect our environment and for clean energy. And I’m so excited to be able to take my now 18-year record and passion for public service and level up,” she said.
Early voting has been underway since early January. Polling places will be open Tuesday from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.
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