Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

June 19, 2014

Three Republican candidates to vie for vacant Senate seat

By CHARLES OWENS
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

TAZEWELL, Va. — Three Republicans are now vying for their party’s nomination in the closely watched race to fill a vacant Virginia Senate seat with statewide implications.

 George McCall threw his hat into the ring Wednesday joining former Buchanan County Commonwealth Attorney and current Tazewell attorney Tamara Neo and current Delegate A. Benton “Ben” Chafin Jr., R-Russell, in the race for the GOP nomination.

The mass gathering of Republicans from nine Southwest Virginia counties and two cities representing the 38th Senatorial District will be held Thursday beginning at 5 p.m. at Nuckolls Hall at the Tazewell County Fairgrounds. The delegates will begin their voting process at 7 p.m. The winner of the mass gathering will face Democratic nominee Mike Hymes of Tazewell in the closely watched Aug. 19 special election to fill the Senate vacancy created by the abrupt resignation of veteran Democrat Phillip Puckett in the 38th legislative district. The outcome of the closely-watched race will help to decide which political party controls the Virginia General Assembly well into 2015.

Hymes, the current Southern District member of the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors, was declared the Democratic nominee late Tuesday after no other Democrats filed to challenge him. Democrats had planned a mass gathering at Graham High School in Bluefield, Va., but the event was canceled after Hymes was declared the winner.

Jack Morgan, legislative district chair for the Republican Party’s 38th District nominating committee, said the quick time frame for the party nomination process didn’t allow for a candidate pre-filing. But Morgan said at least three candidates had declared their intentions to seek the nomination as of Wednesday — Neo, Chafin and McCall. He said additional candidates could emerge at the mass gathering Thursday.

“There is at least three candidates,” Morgan said. “There have been talks of other people, but I haven’t seen anyone else come forward.”

Morgan said the GOP hopes to have a nominee by late Thursday. He said rules for today’s convention were still being finalized.

“The process will be just like a standard mass meeting that our party would have at the county level or legislative level,” Morgan said. “We will have the candidates in the house, and the candidates will have an opportunity to speak at the mass meeting. Then we will have a vote process. While the rules are not yet complete  — basically a candidate will have to get a majority of the votes.”

 The special election was ordered following the surprise resignation of Democrat Phillip Puckett last week. Puckett’s resignation tipped control of the Virginia Senate to Republicans, who also control the state House of Delegates. If Hymes were to win the special election, the Senate would go back to being split evenly between 20 Democrats and 20 Republicans. But Democrats would have the edge with Democratic Lt. Gov. Ralph S. Northam being able to break tie votes in favor of the Democratic Party. If the GOP nominee — whoever he or she will be — wins the special election, Republicans would retain majority control of the Virginia Senate. They already have majority control of the House — and thus would have majority control of the General Assembly.

— Contact Charles Owens at cowens@bdtonline.com