Home 2023 Elections Who Are the Possible/Likely Democratic Contenders in VA04? Will Youngkin Set an...

Who Are the Possible/Likely Democratic Contenders in VA04? Will Youngkin Set an Early Special Election Date, or Try to Keep Seat Vacant for Months?

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With the sudden, tragic death of Rep. Donald McEachin (D-VA04) earlier this week, we unfortunately now have the need to fill this vacant U.S. House seat. Note that Virginia Code states that “When any vacancy occurs in the representation of the Commonwealth of Virginia in the House of Representatives, or when a representative-elect dies or resigns, the Governor shall issue a writ of election to fill the vacancy.” However, the Code does NOT set a time frame for how quickly that needs to happen, which means that if he wants to do so, Gov. Glenn Youngkin could take his sweet time…or call a special election very quickly, most likely based on his calculation as to what might benefit his party – and him – politically.

Of course, there are two big reasons why a special election should happen in a timely fashion, the first of which being that the people of the 4th Congressional District should not have to go for a long stretch of time without representation in the U.S. House of Representatives. And second, the balance of power in the U.S. House of Representatives is very close, which means that every seat really matters. So there’s really no good excuse to drag this out. But that doesn’t mean Gov. Youngkin won’t do just that, possibly in order to give U.S. House Republicans a slightly bigger cushion.

On the other hand, the chatter among Virginia politicos in recent days has been that Youngkin might want to hold the special election quickly, especially if State Senator Jennifer McClellan is running for the VA04 seat, in order to boost Republicans in the State Senate, by leaving Democrats (who hold a narrow 21-18 majority, pending the special election for former Sen. Jen Kiggans’ seat, which could leave Dems at 21-19 or 22-18) playing “short-handed” during the 2023 General Assembly session. Of course, given that the 2023 General Assembly convenes from January 11 to February 25, that strategy would require a special election to be held fairly quickly…and then the special election for the State Senate seat being held AFTER the General Assembly’s adjournment. So presumably, Youngkin is mulling his strategy and will decide relatively soon.

So, presumably, what Youngkin decides in terms of the special election’s timing will depend – at least in part – on who he thinks is running and who he thinks might win (e.g., a State Senator?). Which brings us to the rumored list of possible Democratic candidates (note: this is an overwhelmingly “blue” – D+30 – district, so whoever the Democratic nominee is will almost certainly be elected as the next U.S. Representative).  With that, here are some names being mentioned, with comments on each:

  • State Senator Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond, Henrico; holds Donald McEachin’s former State Senate seat): Considered the frontrunner by many political observers, supposedly is seriously considering a run for this seat, despite having had her eyes set on the governorship for a while now (including her run for governor in 2021).  In basically everyone’s view, Sen. McClellan would be a very strong contender for this seat. A McClellan candidacy also could make it more likely that Gov. Youngkin will set the special election date sooner, rather than later, for the reasons noted above.
  • Del. Lamont Bagby (D-Henrico): According to what I’m hearing and to Axios Richmond, Del. Bagby “appears to have emerged as one of the most likely contenders for the seat.” Axios Richmond adds that Bagby – “the chairman of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus and a mentee of McEachin” – said, “there is no secret I’ve always wanted to follow in my big brother’s footsteps.”
  • Former Del. Lashrecse Aird (D-Chesterfield, Petersburg, Dinwiddie): According to Axios Richmond, Aird – who narrowly lost her House of Delegates seat in 2021 – said she’ll “address any potential candidacy in due course.” The chatter among Virginia politicos is that she’s seriously considering a run for this seat, given that her path to victory in a State Senate primary against incumbent Joe Morrissey is going to be very difficult, by all accounts.
  • Colette McEachin (Commonwealth’s Attorney for the City of Richmond): I’m hearing she’s not interested in running for Congress, but obviously if she WERE interested, she’d be a very strong contender.
  • Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney: Would be another possibly very strong contender; no clue what he’s thinking on this, but the presumption for a long time has been that he’s interested in running for governor.
  • State Senator Joe Morrissey (D-Henrico, Petersburg, etc.): According to Axios Richmond, “he’s happy in his current seat” and will not run for VA04.  This could help sway Youngkin to call a special election sooner, rather than later, given that if Morrissey were running for U.S. House, Youngkin would probably want to keep him around for the 2023 Virginia General Assembly session, since Morrissey is someone Youngkin has courted and reportedly views as potentially gettable on some issues (maybe abortion?).
  • Del. Jeff Bourne (D-Richmond): According to Axios Richmond, he said “he’s humbled by suggestions he might run but ‘will not be a candidate.'” Also, this morning, reporter Michael Pope said Bourne has “taken [himself] out of the running.”
  • Petersburg Mayor Sam Parnham: I’ve heard his name mentioned, but other than that, I have no idea.
  • Chesapeake City Council member Ella Ward: I hadn’t heard her name previously, but she Richmond Times-Dispatch political columnist Jeff Schapiro mentioned her this morning as a possible candidate. Of course, Chesapeake isn’t in the new VA04, so I’m not sure how this could be the case.

So that’s pretty much what I’m hearing. How about you, are you hearing any other names? When do you think Gov. Youngkin should call the special election?

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