Jennifer McClellan Projected To Become Virginia’s First Black Congresswoman

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Virginia state Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D) was projected to defeat her Republican opponent on Tuesday to become the first Black woman to represent the state in Congress, according to The Associated Press and early vote counts.

McClellan, 50, led Republican Leon Benjamin by about 40 percentage points on Tuesday during a special election to fill a seat vacated by the death of Rep. Donald McEachin (D). McEachin died of cancer in November, shortly after he was elected to a fourth term in office.

Her victory, while expected in a blue-leaning district that includes Richmond, is a milestone in Virginia politics. McClellan painted her bid as an honor heavy with responsibility to be the state’s first Black woman to head to Congress, pointing to her family’s experiences in the Jim Crow era. She told The Associated Press that her father and grandfather were required to pay poll taxes and her mother wasn’t able to vote until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

“It’s poetic justice, thinking about what not only my family has been through, but what our country has been through,” McClellan told The Washington Post after her projected victory. “To be the first Black woman from Virginia, which was the birthplace of American democracy but also the birthplace of American slavery.”

Her victory was hailed by the Virginia Democratic Party.

“Jennifer McClellan’s history-making victory as the first Black woman to be elected to Congress from Virginia will have ripple effects across the Commonwealth,” Susan Swecker, the chairwoman of the party, said in a statement Tuesday night. “Her leadership will expand upon the outstanding progress and advocacy for which we remember Congressman A. Donald McEachin ― I cannot think of a better way to honor his life and legacy.”

McClellan has served as a state legislator since 2006, sponsoring many Democratic initiatives, including bills that expanded voting access and abortion rights. She pushed forward a clean energy initiative and has pledged to work toward similar efforts while in Congress.

Only three Black men have ever represented Virginia in Congress. McClellan will join 29 other Black women now in the House of Representatives.

“It’s a huge honor, and responsibility, to ensure that I’m not the last,” she told AP.

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