Jennifer McClellan wins Democratic 'firehouse primary' for the late Rep. Donald McEachin's Virginia House seat

Jennifer McClellan wins Democratic 'firehouse primary' for the late Rep. Donald McEachin's Virginia House seat

Virginia state Sen. Jennifer McClellan has won the Democratic nomination for the House seat vacated by the late Rep. Donald McEachin. 

The race was called by The Associated Press shortly after 4 a.m. Thursday, with McClellan receiving 84.81% of the vote. 

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin called a special election for the state’s 4th Congressional District after McEachin’s death, instructing both parties to file candidates by Dec. 23. In that short time, four Democrats registered for the so-called “firehouse primary,” named for how the party had to scramble to organize the election.  

“Tuesday’s party-run process saw historic turnout with 27,900 votes cast, making it the largest party-run nomination process in the history of the Democratic Party of Virginia; voter turnout even exceeded the last state-run primary in VA-04, when 15,728 votes were cast,” the Democratic Party of Virginia said in a statement Thursday. 

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State Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Va., candidate for Virginia's 4th Congressional District, speaks during a canvassing event as Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., looks on, in the North Side of Richmond, Virginia, on Saturday, Dec. 17, 2022. McClellan is running to fill the seat of the late Rep. Donald McEachin, D-Va. 

State Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Va., candidate for Virginia’s 4th Congressional District, speaks during a canvassing event as Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., looks on, in the North Side of Richmond, Virginia, on Saturday, Dec. 17, 2022. McClellan is running to fill the seat of the late Rep. Donald McEachin, D-Va.  (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Joseph D. Morrissey prepares for business to begin as lawmakers return to Richmond to kick off the 2015 Virginia General Assembly on Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2015, in Richmond, Virginia.

Joseph D. Morrissey prepares for business to begin as lawmakers return to Richmond to kick off the 2015 Virginia General Assembly on Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2015, in Richmond, Virginia. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

U.S. Rep. Don McEachin, D-Va., speaks during a rally for then-Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden in Norfolk, Virginia, March 1, 2020. McEachin died Monday, Nov. 28, 2022, after a battle with colorectal cancer, his office said. He was 61.

U.S. Rep. Don McEachin, D-Va., speaks during a rally for then-Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden in Norfolk, Virginia, March 1, 2020. McEachin died Monday, Nov. 28, 2022, after a battle with colorectal cancer, his office said. He was 61. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

The two front-runners were McClellan and Democratic state Sens. Joseph Morrissey, who received 13.56% of the vote. Each announced their candidacies less than a week before voters went to the polls for Tuesday’s primary.

The other candidates included Tavorise Marks (0.78%) and Joseph Preston (0.62%).

McClellan won the endorsement of McEachin’s wife, Richmond Commonwealth Attorney Colette McEachin, as well as backing from Virginia Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, as well as several other prominent state Democrats. 

She launched a blitzkrieg campaign, spending around $15,000 on Google Ads targeting voters in the district according to FWIW, a newsletter that tracks political ad spending. 

A McClellan campaign advisor told Roll Call she had raised about $200,000 as of Friday. 

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Senator Jennifer McClellan attends Virginia SB 493 Cyberflashing Passage Event with Bumble on May 2, 2022, in Alexandria, Virginia.

Senator Jennifer McClellan attends Virginia SB 493 Cyberflashing Passage Event with Bumble on May 2, 2022, in Alexandria, Virginia. (Shannon Finney/Getty Images for Bumble)

Morrissey, meanwhile, is a scandal-plagued attorney who attacked Democratic Party leadership for the way they conducted the primary election. 

“Instead of holding a firehouse primary on Saturday, December 17, 2022, like we have always done firehouse primaries on Saturday, letting everybody vote, the Fourth Congressional District Democratic Committee chose an unprecedented Tuesday, special election nomination process. It will have the direct effect of chilling and limiting voter turnout,” Morrisey said in a statement ripping the “Democratic elite” for scheduling the primary on a weekday. 

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Joseph D. Morrissey prepares for business to begin as lawmakers return to Richmond to kick off the 2015 Virginia General Assembly on Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2015, in Richmond, Virginia.

Joseph D. Morrissey prepares for business to begin as lawmakers return to Richmond to kick off the 2015 Virginia General Assembly on Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2015, in Richmond, Virginia. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washigton Post)

“I am not whining. I’m not complaining. I will fight back. I will work hard. My parents taught all of us never to give up, never to quit. And that’s what we’ll do. So we’ll play by your rules. Shame on you, Susan Swecker, and the Democratic elites for what you did. We’ll play by your rules and we’ll beat you,” he said, referring to Susan Swecker, chairwoman of the Virginia Democratic Party. 

Morrissey, 65, was accused in 2014 of having sex with his 17-year-old secretary, who he later married. He was in his mid-fifties at the time. 

Susan Swecker, Chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Virginia, will join Alexsis Rodgers, Chairwoman of the Fourth Congressional District Democratic Committee, for a press conference 10:00 a.m. Thursday to formally announce McClellan’s victory, the Virginia Democratic Party said.

McClellan will face Republican Leon Benjamin Sr. in a special election on Feb. 21. Benjamin previously ran unsuccessfully against McEachin twice and was defeated by tens of thousands of votes in November.  

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The race leans Democratic.