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Virginia state Sen. Jennifer McClellan jumps into pivotal governor's race

Virginia state Sen. Jennifer McClellan officially entered the state's 2021 gubernatorial race Thursday in a bid to become the state and country's first black female governor.

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Chandelis Duster
CNN — Virginia state Sen. Jennifer McClellan officially entered the state's 2021 gubernatorial race Thursday in a bid to become the state and country's first black female governor.

McClellan, a Democrat, said in a campaign video "this is not a moment to retreat to the past, but to step boldly into our future."

"We stand at a critical time in our history, as Virginia faces health, economic and racial inequity crises," the 47-year-old lawmaker also said in a statement. "This is a moment to step boldly into our future. I'm running for governor to lead Virginia as we build an inclusive economy that doesn't leave people behind, a health care system that everyone can access affordably, and public schools that deliver on the promise in our Constitution to provide high quality education to all children."

Her announcement comes at a crucial moment of reckoning in the state concerning its racist past, prompted by the death of George Floyd and weeks of demonstrations. In recent years, the state has also grappled with protests over Second Amendment rights. It also comes a day before Juneteenth, a holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States which began in Virginia when enslaved Africans on a ship arrived on it's shores more than 400 years ago.

But McClellan is not the only black lawmaker with her eyes on the governor's mansion and she faces a competitive field. Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, who was a chief patron of the ERA in the Virginia House, announced she was running last week. Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who said during a dinner in December 2019 that he "was going to be planning to run for governor in 2021," is expected to launch a bid but has not made an official announcement.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, won't be running for reelection since Virginia law prohibits governors from serving consecutive terms. Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe has not ruled out running again and Attorney General Mark Herring has also been floated as a potential gubernatorial contender. Republicans are expecting a crowded primary field as well. State Sen. Amanda Chase has already announced her bid, and several other Republicans are considering a run, including entrepreneur Pete Snyder who ran a failed bid for lieutenant governor in 2013.

Raised in Petersburg, Virginia, McClellan was elected a delegate in the Virginia House in 2006 and became a state senator in 2017. Earlier this year, a bill rolling back restrictions on abortion rights that she sponsored passed in the Virginia General Assembly and was signed into law by Northam.

She also sponsored her chamber's resolution that helped Virginia become the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, which bans discrimination on the basis of sex and guarantees equality for women under the Constitution.

Virginia became a focal point around a nationwide debate about removing Confederate monuments in 2017, after one person was killed and 19 others were injured in Charlottesville when white supremacists and Neo-Nazis protested the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. And as demands for racial justice and police reform sweep the nation now, the state is once again faced with the debate over the removal of Confederate monuments.

Last week, protestors in Richmond, the state's capital, toppled a monument of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy. A statue of Christopher Columbus was also torn down and thrown in a park. In Fredericksburg, Virginia, an 800-pound auction block marking the spot where blacks were displayed and sold as slaves was also removed this month.

Northam also announced the Gen. Robert E. Lee monument that sits on the historic Monument Avenue in Richmond would be removed. McClellan told CNN after the announcement she was relieved by Northam's announcement.

"As a 47-year-old black woman, I sort of conditioned myself to ignore it because it was too painful," McClellan said tearully at the time. "It feels like this weight will be lifted off of my shoulder, personally, and my people's."

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