Virginia Democrats will select a candidate Tuesday for special elections to fill the term of late Representative Donald McEachin, who died in November a few weeks after he was reelected.
Democrats in the 4th Congressional District hold a “firehouse primal,” or a party-run primary rather than electoral officers, at a handful of pop-up polling sites in the Richmond area.
The candidate will reliably run into the February general election as a favorite in a Democratic district, and the outcome of the election is unlikely to affect the balance of power in the U.S. House, which the Republicans will control in January.
Virginia state Senator Jennifer McClellan, who finished third in the 2021 governor’s primary, has the backing of Democratic Party leaders and groups ranging from the political arm of the Congressional Progressive Caucus to the Democratic Majority, which has moderate support for the Israeli PAC. If elected, she would be the first Black woman to represent Virginia in Congress.
Virginia Senator Tim Kaine campaigned with McClellan, a close ally who oversaw the weekend’s wedding, and members of the Commonwealth’s Democratic congressional delegation endorsed him, as did Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney and other local officials. Democrats won’t know their candidates until Wednesday, at the earliest, when vote counting begins.
The reunion around McClellan was partly influenced by the campaign of state Senator Joe Morrissey, who was plagued by scandal. His animosities with the party establishment may be part of his appeal among some disillusioned partisans, but his critics point to a more damaging history, including his resignation from state legislature in 2014 after a misdemeanor conviction for contributing to a minor’s delinquency. . A 17-year-old part-time employee at the law firm where she had sex and shared nude photos. She was in her mid-50s at the time, but claimed to believe the woman was 18, according to a local report she said. (Morrissey has since been married to the woman and has several children.) has a law license – twice – and was disbarred after the 2019 state Supreme Court decision upheld his annulment.
Morrissey attacked the state party for holding the primary on Tuesday instead of Saturday, saying it would limit voter turnout. Announcing his candidacy, Morrissey referred to himself as the “worker bee” while emphasizing his work on criminal justice reform.
There is no party registration in Virginia, so the primary election will be open to all voters in the district, provided they sign a pledge to support the Democratic nominee in the general election. Republicans selected their candidate, Leon Benjamin, in a vote over the weekend.
Benjamin had previously run for the seat, losing to McEachin earlier this year and in 2020.
Under Virginia state law, there is no state-run primary for this particular election, so parties are responsible for choosing their own candidates.
The district’s Democratic committee chair applauded the “firehouse” voting method as a way to increase participation in the process.
“A Firehouse Primary allows as many candidates and voters as possible to participate in the democratic process,” said Alexsis Rodgers. “The Fourth Congressional District Democratic Committee is committed to running a seamless, transparent, and relevant process for selecting a candidate.”
Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin set the special election date for February 21 last Monday, providing a quick turnaround as parties must formally elect their candidates by December 23.
Just one week into the election campaign, a number of Democrats entered the race. McClellan and Morrissey are the top contenders, largely because the state is Del. Lamont Bagby decided to leave to help pave the way for McClellan, a lead fellow of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus. Bagby’s support largely shifted to McClellan.
McClellan, who has served in the state legislature since 2006 and replaced McEachin in the state Senate, spoke in his announcement speech last week about his legislative experience and work in the capital with the late congressman.
“As I continue to mourn the passing of a friend, this is a bittersweet day for me as I hear the call to continue his legacy and carry my servant leadership to Washington,” McClellan said.
The Virginia Democrats lost the governorship and the House of Delegates in 2021 and control only a very narrow majority in the state Senate. If McClellan wins the congressional special election in February, the vacant Senate seat could undermine Democrats’ ability to block bills, such as potential restrictions on abortion.