A field of at least six Republican hopefuls will vie for their party’s nomination Thursday in a “firehouse primary” to fill the vacant 38th District Senate seat.
Facing a qualifying deadline of Jan. 22, the district Republican committee announced it will host voting on Jan. 21 at eight sites across the district, which is more than 150 miles wide. The seat was left vacant by the Jan. 1 death of Sen. Ben Chafin, R-Lebanon. The special election is March 23.
Gov. Ralph Northam established the date for the special election and the filing deadline on Jan. 12.
The primary, or canvass, is run entirely by the party and the Virginia Department of Elections has “no role in the nomination process of either party,” according to a department spokesperson.
Party officials expect to tabulate those results and declare a winner Thursday night, then certify that candidate by Friday’s deadline, according to Kyle Cruey, chairman of the Tazewell County Republican Party and a member of the District Committee.
“For any candidate it’s tough, but that’s the situation we were put in with the deadline. It’s going to be a lot of work for the candidates,” Cruey said Friday. “To get representation, we have to have an election as quick as possible so it’s just the situation we were presented with.”
The district includes all of Bland, Buchanan, Dickenson, Pulaski, Russell and Tazewell counties, the cities of Norton and Radford along with portions of Smyth, Wise and Montgomery counties.
Voting locations include:
» Bland County Republican Party Headquarters 677 Main St., Bland
» Grundy Community Center, 22734 Cinema Drive, Highway 460, Grundy
» Dickenson County Republican headquarters 5309 Dickenson Highway, Clintwood
» New River Valley Fairgrounds, 5581 Fairgrounds Circle, Dublin
» Russell County Government Center parking lot, 139 Highland Drive, Lebanon
» Saltville Town Hall, 217 Palmer Ave., Saltville
» Tazewell County Fairgrounds, Fuller Perry building, 515 Fairgrounds Road, Tazewell
» The space next to Mullins Insurance Agency, 540B Park Ave., Norton
A complaint challenging the special election was filed earlier this week asking it be held later this month not March 23. Attorney Tim Anderson said Friday it could be heard next week.
Sen. Todd Pillion, R-Abingdon, addressed the district’s situation in a written statement.
“The passing of Southwest Virginia’s senior state senator leaves the 38th Senatorial District seat vacant for the 2021 regular session,” Pillion wrote. “Unfortunately, by waiting until March 23 to hold the special election, the governor has strengthened the Democrats control in the Senate of Virginia, leaving the residents of the 38th District without a vote in the Senate for the entirety of this session.
“Despite being down a vote, the residents of the 38th District are not down a voice. As our delegation has always done, we will continue to work together to make sure all of Southwest Virginia is represented in Richmond,” Pillion wrote.
Six candidates have declared their intentions to run and the Republican Party’s deadline is noon Monday, according to the official statement on the 9th District Republican Party website.
Former Circuit Judge Chad Dotson, 47, of Wise County, announced his intentions to run through a Facebook post. He currently serves as the dean of students and a constitutional law professor at the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy.
“I’m running in the special election because I know we need a conservative voice who will continue the work that Sen. Ben Chafin started,” Dotson said in the statement. “We need a senator in Richmond who will fight to bring jobs to Southwest Virginia, defend our special way of life and preserve the values we hold dear — lower taxes, less spending, defending the Second Amendment, preserving life, having the back of law enforcement professionals and fighting for the rule of law.”
Dotson has been endorsed by Del. Terry Kilgore, R-Gate City, and Del. Will Wampler, R-Abingdon.
He was elected to the General District Court bench in 2007, unanimously elevated to the Circuit Court bench in 2011 and reappointed in 2019 before joining the faculty of the Appalachian School of Law in 2020. He served as the chief judge of the 30th Judicial Circuit and presided over the Circuit’s Recovery Court program. He also served a term on the State Drug Court Advisory Board, according to the statement.
Dotson received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville and his law degree from Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C.
He is married with two children.
Candidates who previously announced plans to run include:
» Jony Baker, 44, Nora; Dickenson County sheriff’s deputy
» Travis Hackworth, 45, Cedar Bluff; Tazewell County Supervisor, business owner
» Elijah Leonard, 36, Lebanon, member Lebanon Town Council, business owner
» Kimberly Lowe, 45, Tazewell, director of legislative education for Global Family Alliance
» Tamara Neo, 53, Tazewell, attorney, former commonwealth’s attorney
To this point, no Democrats have announced a candidacy for the seat.
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