“Virginia, like our country, is at a crossroads,” McClellan, 47, said in an interview ahead of her announcement. “We need to rebuild from an economic and health crisis while addressing 400 years of racial inequity and restore people’s faith in the ability of their government to listen to them.”
She is one of two African American women to declare for the Democratic nomination, along with Del. Jennifer D. Carroll Foy (Prince William). Virginia has never elected a woman as governor and has chosen only one black governor, L. Douglas Wilder (D).
Other potential Democratic rivals include former governor Terry McAuliffe, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, Attorney General Mark R. Herring and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) cannot seek reelection because the state constitution prohibits any governor from serving two consecutive terms.
On the Republican side, the only declared candidate is state Sen. Amanda F. Chase (Chesterfield), an outspoken supporter of President Trump who quit her party’s caucus during this year’s General Assembly session in a dispute over dues.
Other potential GOP contenders include Pete Snyder, a Northern Virginia technology entrepreneur, and former state senator Charles “Bill” Carrico, a retired state trooper from Grayson County, in the state’s far southwest.
McClellan has long been considered a rising star in her party, and debuts with a list of endorsements from around the state, including Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson and state senators Mamie E. Locke (Hampton), Jennifer B. Boysko (Fairfax) and Ghazala F. Hashmi (Chesterfield).
She announced her candidacy with a digital video and no public events, thanks to continued restrictions under the state of emergency amid the coronavirus pandemic. McClellan said she was also sensitive to the turmoil gripping communities over mistreatment of African Americans at the hands of police, and said she did not want to delay her announcement at such a time.
“I’ve got to live up to my values of pushing through and focusing on the work that needs to be done,” she said.
Born in Petersburg, McClellan was raised by parents who worked at Virginia State University and taught her the importance of serving the community, she said. She helped found a chapter of the black sorority Delta Sigma Theta at the University of Richmond and later attended law school at the University of Virginia. She is married and has two children.
In the legislature, McClellan was a sponsor of this year’s Virginia Clean Economy Act, which made Virginia the first Southern state to commit to carbon-free power by 2050.
She cited criminal justice reform as another priority; she sponsored a bill — also signed into law — that gives school principals discretion in whether to report unruly behavior to police. McClellan said criminal justice reform “needs to focus on prevention and rehabilitation and not just punishment.” Expanding access to affordable health care and removing barriers to reproductive health care for women are also high on her agenda, she said.
McClellan chairs the General Assembly’s Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Commission, which has taken a lead role in the state’s efforts to confront its troubled racial history. Recent Black Lives Matter demonstrations are a continuation of that history, she said, and would inform her agenda if she were to become governor.
Laura Vozzella contributed to this report.