RICHMOND — Del. Jennifer D. Carroll Foy said Tuesday that she was stepping down from her seat in the Virginia legislature to focus on the 2021 governor's race.

Carroll Foy (D-Prince William) released a video casting her decision as a “bold” move on behalf of Virginians whose interests have long been ignored — and who have borne the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’m stepping down from the House of Delegates to focus 100 percent of my time on building a grass-roots movement to meet this moment,” she says in the video. “Helping families and workers recover and building a post-covid economy will be tough, but so are we. Together, we can rebuild a Virginia that leaves no one behind.”

Her resignation, which takes effect Saturday, set off a scramble to hold a special election before the General Assembly convenes on Jan. 13. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) called the election for Jan. 5. Democrats were working on plans to pick their nominee Saturday or Sunday, probably through a party-run primary. The GOP had not made any immediate nomination plans, a party spokesman said Monday afternoon.

By leaving office, Carroll Foy will be free to travel and raise money during the upcoming legislative session. Fundraising is banned during regular sessions, although it is possible that Democrats will convene in special session instead to get around Republican efforts to limit it this year to 30 days instead of the usual 46. Legislators are free to raise money during special sessions.

Carroll Foy’s decision to give up her seat drew oblique criticism from one of her rivals for the Democratic nomination, who suggested that the delegate was skipping out on her constituents at a time of “unprecedented crisis.”

“I will always put public service first,” state Sen. Jennifer L. McClellan (Richmond) said in a statement. “I look forward to working this session on legislation to support our workers and small businesses, invest in Virginia’s education system from early childhood to career, stabilize and rebuild our economic and health care safety nets, and support families during the crisis. Virginians elected Democratic leaders to get things done in Richmond, and that’s exactly what I plan to do this legislative session and as Governor.”

Democrats enjoy a 10-seat majority in the House of Delegates, and Carroll Foy twice won her seat by hefty margins. But both parties are likely to make a strenuous push for the seat, given the unpredictable nature of special elections, which typically draw very few voters. All 100 seats in the House will be on the ballot in November.

When she declared her candidacy in May, Carroll Foy was the first of three Democrats to launch bids to succeed Northam, who is prohibited by the state constitution from seeking back-to-back terms.

Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D) is also running. Former governor Terry McAuliffe, who left office in January 2018, will kick off his bid for a second term Wednesday, according to four people with knowledge of his plans who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss them.

On the Republican side, there are two declared candidates: state Sen. Amanda F. Chase (Chesterfield) and Del. Kirk Cox (Colonial Heights), the former speaker of the House of Delegates.

Chase said Saturday that she will run as an independent after the Republican State Central Committee voted to choose its nominee at a convention instead of in a statewide primary.

Five other Republicans are actively exploring bids: outgoing Rep. Denver Riggleman; Northern Virginia businessman Pete Snyder; former Carlyle Group co-chief executive Glenn Youngkin; state Sen. Emmett W. Hanger Jr. (Augusta); and Charles “Bill” Carrico, a retired state trooper and former state senator from Grayson County, in the state’s far southwest.

Carroll Foy is one of the most prominent members of the House’s Class of 2017, which includes 15 Democrats who unseated GOP incumbents and nearly flipped the chamber blue. She was pregnant with twins when she ran.

A former public defender and foster mother, she held on to the seat in 2019, when Democrats took control of the House, winning with 60 percent of the vote.

The chief sponsor of a House bill to ratify the federal Equal Rights Amendment, Carroll Foy has been outspoken on issues of gender, criminal justice reform, workers and the environment. (One of her rivals, McClellan, sponsored the ERA measure on the Senate side.)

Carroll Foy was raised by her grandmother in Petersburg, Va., and was among the first African American women to graduate from the Virginia Military Institute. Virginia has never had a female governor.