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Special election set to fill Virginia Senate seat vacant after Sen. Ben Chafin's death
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Special election set to fill Virginia Senate seat vacant after Sen. Ben Chafin's death

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A special election to fill the state Senate seat that represents a swath of far Southwest Virginia and includes part of the New River Valley will be held March 23.

The seat will remain vacant through the General Assembly’s regular session, which starts Wednesday and will last about a month.

Sen. Ben Chafin, R-Russell, died Jan. 1 from complications related to COVID-19. He was 60 years old.

At least three people — all Republicans — have indicated they will seek the Senate seat. Jony Baker is a Dickenson County sheriff’s deputy, and Elijah Leonard is a Lebanon Town Council member. Kimberly Lowe, who had most recently been running for a House of Delegates seat in Southside represented by Del. Roslyn Tyler, D-Sussex, said she’s now going to compete for the Southwest Senate seat (state legislators have to reside in the district they represent).

With multiple Republicans running, the local party leaders will have to choose a nomination method. No information on when that will be has been announced yet.

The last day for candidates to file to appear on the ballot is Jan. 22.

The special session will take place shortly before legislative boundaries are drawn in the redistricting process. Southwest Virginia has lost population over the years, so there may be new borders for the district that current spans from the New River Valley to Southwest Virginia. Maps likely will not be complete until sometime in April.

Chafin had represented the 38th Senate District that stretches from Montgomery County to Wise County since 2014. It’s been a solidly red district since Chafin won a special election in August 2014 to replace Democrat Phillip Puckett, who had stepped down two months earlier, handing Republicans control of the Senate. In 2019, Democrats won back a majority of seats.

With the Senate seat remaining vacant during the regular session, the Democrats will hold a slim majority of 21-18. The Senate is meeting in person at the Science Museum of Virginia in Richmond, while the House of Delegates is meeting virtually.

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