Meet the Pro-Life Convicted Felon Virginia Democrats Could Send to Congress

You read that right. There’s a real chance Virginia Democrats could nominate a pro-life state senator – and convicted felon – in today’s Democratic primary for a Richmond-area House seat.


There’s a real chance Virginia Democrats could nominate a pro-life state Senator – and convicted felon – in today’s primary for the safe Democratic seat left vacant after the death of Rep. Donald McEachin.

  • McEachin died of cancer on November 28, just weeks after winning reelection to his fourth term representing Richmond in Congress with 64 percent of the vote. McEachin was a longtime state legislator before his election to Congress and had battled cancer since 2013.
  • Gov. Glenn Youngkin set the special election to fill McEachin’s seat for February 21, forcing both parties to pick their nominees on an accelerated timetable. On Saturday, Virginia Republicans nominated pastor Leon Benjamin, a pastor who unsuccessfully challenged McEachin twice before.
  • Virginia Democrats will select their nominee in Tuesday’s “firehouse primary” – a party-run primary election with only 5 polling places. State Sens. Jennifer McClellan, the favorite of the party establishment, and Joe Morrissey, a powerful maverick with a long list of scandals in his wake, are the leading contenders.
  • Morrissey, considered the most powerful politician in Richmond, is the key swing vote in the Virginia Senate and an outspoken abortion opponent who could help Gov. Youngkin and Republicans pass pro-life legislation. Morrissey’s rise to power is remarkable considering his past.
  • Before being disbarred – twice – Morrissey famously got in a fistfight with a defense attorney in a courtroom hallway when he served as Richmond’s chief prosecutor in 1991 before his election to the House of Delegates in 2007.
  • After his December 2014 conviction of “contributing to the delinquency of a minor” by having a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl, Morrissey resigned from the House of Delegates. Morrissey, who was 57 at the time, would later pose with her in antebellum costumes that need to be seen to be believed. They later married and have three children.
  • Sentenced to six months in prison, Morrissey would go on to win the 2015 special election to his own House seat running as an independent candidate from his jail cell. Morrissey was able to attend legislative sessions as part of a work-release program but had to be back in his jail cell at 7:30pm.
  • Morrissey was the frontrunner for Mayor of Richmond in 2016 before a client’s accusations of unwanted sexual advances derailed his campaign.
  • He would go on to win a promotion to the Virginia Senate after toppling a Democratic incumbent in a 2019 primary and most recently earned headlines for physically threatening an NAACP official.
  • Morrissey has made attacks on party “elites” key to his race. Morrissey accused Democrats of limiting the number of polling places to disenfranchise voters and help stitch up the primary for McClellan.
  • Colette McEachin, the late Congressman’s widow, endorsed McClellan, saying the district “deserves better” than Joe Morrissey. In a statement, McEachin said she’d “prefer to privately mourn my beloved husband of 34 years” but her late husband would “want me to speak out.”
  • McClellan also earned the endorsements of U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, and all eight Democratic members of Virginia’s congressional delegation.
  • Democrats have a slim 21-19 majority in the Virginia Senate, meaning no matter who wins Tuesday’s primary, Democrats will likely lose a critical vote during the Senate’s 2023 regular session, which concludes a few days after the February special election for the 4th District.
  • This vacancy – coupled with the outcome of a special Senate election in January to fill the seat left by Republican Jen Kiggans, who was elected to Congress last month – could crack the “blue wall” stopping Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s legislative agenda.

reporting from the left side of the aisle


  • Daily Kos Elections wrote the “notorious” Morrissey, a “chaos Muppet who seems to delight in wreaking havoc” has long gotten under Democrats’ skin while retaining a strong base of support among black voters in Richmond. Most recently, in 2019 Morrissey toppled a sitting Democratic state senator who was supported by three governors: McAuliffe, Kaine, and then-Gov. Ralph Northam.
  • Axios noted that although Morrissey often emphasizes his moderate stance on abortion, he’s so far stuck to the Democratic Party line on the issue when it has come up for a vote in the Virginia Senate in the past year.
  • The Washington Post reported the race’s compressed timeline has created a “high-stakes, rapid-pace contest” with a safe Democratic House seat as the prize. The shortened race is playing out on the airwaves and on television with no time to stand up a full campaign.



  • Fox News noted that the “partisan lean of the district presents an enormous challenge to any Republican candidate and makes it a prize for a Democrat.” Democrat Terry McAuliffe carried the seat by 24 points in 2021 while losing the governor’s race by 2 points statewide, and Tim Kaine carried the 4th District by 40 points when he won reelection to the U.S. Senate in 2018.
  • RRH Elections, a conservative elections watcher, called Morrissey “fascinating” and remarked upon his skill at defeating establishment Democrats and winning elections to black-majority districts as a white man.
  • Breitbart noted that ex-state Del. Joseph Preston and Tavorise Marks, a former state House candidate, are also seeking the Democratic nomination, but neither is expected to be competitive. Delegate Lamont Bagby initially announced a campaign before withdrawing within days.

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© Dominic Moore, 2022