McClellan adds support in race for Virginia US House seat
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia’s Democratic establishment coalesced Thursday in support of state Sen. Jennifer McClellan in her bid to succeed the late U.S. Rep. A. Donald McEachin.
One of McClellan’s primary opponents, Del. Lamont Bagby, dropped out of the Democratic nomination contest for Virginia’s 4th Congressional District and threw his support to her, saying the move was in the “best interests of the voters” to “ensure we have the right representation.”
“Just as I am clear eyed in my decision to step aside, I also firmly believe that there is only one candidate in this race fit to replace my late mentor, Donald McEachin. That person is Senator Jennifer McClellan,” Bagby said in a statement.
Bagby’s move triggered a flurry of additional endorsements for McClellan, and it left McClellan and fellow state Sen. Joe Morrissey the leading Democratic contenders in the race. Voters will choose the party’s nominee in a firehouse primary Tuesday, and that person will enjoy a structural advantage heading into the Feb. 21 special election, given the makeup of the Democrat-leaning district.
Morrissey, an unpredictable attorney with an independent voting streak and long record of personal and professional controversies, also has a history of winning tough races against establishment candidates. In 2019, he defeated an incumbent who far outspent him to win election to the state Senate.
In a typically impassioned news conference at his office in south Richmond, Morrissey accused McClellan, Bagby and other Democratic insiders of conspiring together against his candidacy.
“If you don’t like the fact that the Democratic Party is anointing and appointing, and if you don’t like the mischief that they’ve been engaging in, in the last several days, then do this: Come out and vote Tuesday,” Morrissey said.
McClellan’s campaign noted that she and Bagby work closely together in their respective roles as vice-chair and chair of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus.
“It’s no surprise that they would work together in this campaign to continue the legacy of their mutual mentor, Rep. Donald McEachin,” spokesperson Jared Leopold said.
In a statement provided by a spokesperson, Bagby said Morrissey’s remarks further underscored why McClellan was the best candidate.
“If folks don’t know who he is by now, well God bless ’em,” Bagby said of Morrissey.
Morrissey is a twice-disbarred former prosecutor-turned-defense attorney with a hard-charging style who served in the House of Delegates before joining the Senate. He’s a leading voice on criminal justice reform issues, and his office has a strong reputation for its grassroots connections and constituent service.
His successful political career has come despite an extraordinary series controversies. Among them was his resignation from the House of Delegates in 2014 after being convicted of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, his receptionist at his law firm. The two later married and have several children together, and Morrissey was pardoned earlier this year.
McClellan, who if elected would be the first Black woman to represent Virginia in Congress, is a veteran member of the General Assembly who mounted a serious but unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination for governor last year.
She stands to benefit from the name recognition associated with that run, and announced this week that her campaign raised more than $100,000 in the first 24 hours following her announcement.
After Bagby dropped out of the race, some of his supporters threw their backing to McClellan, including Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney. Other endorsers backed McClellan for the first time Thursday, including U.S. Sen. Mark Warner and U.S. Reps. Elaine Luria, Bobby Scott and Abigail Spanberger. Their support means the eight Democratic members of the state’s congressional delegation have all now endorsed McClellan, along with a long list of her fellow state lawmakers. EMILY’s List, which helps elect Democratic abortion rights supporters, also endorsed McClellan.
Morrissey said he didn’t think McClellan’s endorsements would make or break the race, noting in particular that Kaine had endorsed his Senate opponent in 2019.
Two other candidates have also expressed their interest in running: Tavorise Marks and Joseph Preston. The full slate of contenders will be set after Friday’s noon filing deadline.
Both Republicans and Democrats are picking their nominees through party-run processes, and Morrissey has objected to several components of the Democrats’ decision-making, seeing them as further evidence of an effort to stack the deck against him.
Morrissey criticized the selection of Tuesday for the firehouse primary, saying it will make it harder for working class voters to get to the polls than if it had been held Saturday.
He also blasted Democrats for their initial selection of voting locations, which did not include a precinct in Chesterfield County, where he lives, nor in the majority of the localities in the 4th District. Democratic Party officials later added three additional polling locations in Chesterfield and other more rural parts of the district, which stretches from Richmond south to the North Carolina border.
Liam Watson, a party spokesperson, said in a statement that Virginia Democrats had run the most “fair, transparent, and inclusive nomination process possible” given the timeline necessitated by the February election date set by GOP Gov. Glenn Youngkin.
Republicans will be picking their nominee in a canvass in Colonial Heights on Saturday, and their filing deadline was 5 p.m. Thursday. Two candidates, Leon Benjamin and Dale Sturdifen, have discussed plans to seek their party’s nomination. A party spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to questions about how many candidates met the filing requirements.
McEachin was elected to his first term to the U.S. House in 2016 after serving in the General Assembly. He died last month at age 61 of what his staff said were complications of his long-running fight against colorectal cancer.
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