The field of Democrats hoping to succeed retiring Virginia congressman Jim Moran is growing: State Democratic Party Chair Charniele Herring announced her plans to run Thursday.
The Alexandria delegate may be the lone woman in what could be a crowded field.
"I'm excited to announce I will be running for Congress to represent the 8th District," Herring said.
She was elected to represent Alexandria in the Virginia House just five years ago but she's been a rising star, becoming the minority whip there and then the first African-American to lead the state's party. But she says it was a struggle in her childhood that forged two special interests: Education and homelessness.
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"I lived in a homeless shelter for six months," she said. "That was a difficult time, and I understand the importance of programs to help children to get their education. It was a state run program that got me to George Mason University."
The field of other potential Democratic hopefuls includes Bruce Shuttleworth, who challenged Rep. Moran in the 2012 primary. Arlington Del. Patrick Hope just announced an exploratory committee. Alexandria State Sen. Adam Ebbin, Arlington Del. Alfonso Lopez and Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille also are considering a run.
One Republican -- Micah Edmond -- has announced a bid in the heavily Democratic district.
Virginia has had only three women elected to Congress in its history, and some groups that hope to increase the proportion of women on Capitol Hill urged Herring's bid.
"What we're seeing now more than ever is that when you want something to get done in Washington, you should look to the women," a spokeswoman for Emily’s List said.
Herring said she won't spotlight her gender but believes it does have an impact.
“It would be nice to have some diversity in Congress,” she said. “As a woman, I understand the fight for health care, for all women, that the government doesn't interfere into health care decisions between a woman and her doctor. I had that fight in Richmond and I'm willing to continue that fight on Capitol Hill.”
Herring's run for the Democratic nomination will open up a top position: She will step down as Democratic Party chair to concentrate on the race.
"It's bittersweet," Herring said. "I've loved being state party chair especially at a time when we had an historic sweep and we restructured the party. It was such as honor to chair that party at that time."
Herring is a 30-year resident of northern Virginia and she's lived in Alexandria's West End for 22 years. She says she was just a teenager when her mother took her to Capitol Hill to testify about continuing health care benefits for military children. Herring says whomever is elected to succeed Rep. Moran will have a tough act to follow.
"He's got big shoes to fill, but I'm up to the task with my experence of being a legislator, knowing first hand what it's like to struggle early in life, the importance of education," Herring said. "I'm looking forward to filling his shoes and continuing the good work he's done."
The Democratic primary is set for June 10.