GOP candidate for SWVA special senate election to be chosen Thursday

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SOUTHWEST VIRGINIA (WJHL) – The 38th Senate Legislative District Republican Committee will host a canvass vote on Thursday for voters to select the GOP candidate for the special election in March to fill the late Sen. Ben Chafin’s seat.

“It’s a party-run process, and it’s how we will determine who the Republican nominee will be,” Jack Morgan, 38th Legislative District Chair told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais.

Voters will be able to pick from the following six Republicans:

  • Jony J. Baker
  • Chad Dotson
  • Travis Hackworth
  • Elijah Leonard
  • Kimberly Lowe
  • Tamara C. Neo

Ten voting locations will be designated as part of the canvass:

Unit:Voting location:Address:
BlandBland County Republican Party Headquarters677 Main St., Bland, VA 24315
BuchananGrundy Community Center, First Floor22734 Cinema Dr., Hwy 460 Grundy, VA 24614
DickensonDickenson County Republican Headquarters5309 Dickenson Hwy., Clintwood, VA 24228
MontgomeryNew River Valley Fairgrounds5581 Fairgrounds Cir., Dublin, VA 24084
PulaskiNew River Valley Fairgrounds5581 Fairgrounds Cir., Dublin, VA 24084
RadfordNew River Valley Fairgrounds5581 Fairgrounds Cir., Dublin, VA 24084
RussellRussell County Government Center,
Parking Lot
139 Highland Dr., Lebanon, VA 24266
SmythSaltville Town Hall217 Palmer Ave., Saltville, VA 24370
TazewellTazewell County Fairgrounds, Fuller Perry Building515 Fairgrounds Rd., Tazewell, VA 24651
Wise/NortonSpace next to Mullins Insurance Agency540B Park Ave., SW, Norton VA 24273

Officials said voters must cast their ballot at the canvass location to which their respective unit is assigned.

To qualify to participate in the canvass, officials said voters must be of legal voting age and must meet the principles of the Republican Party. If voting for a nominee in Thursday’s canvass, voters must intend to vote in the Republican elections.

Participants will be asked to present “an acceptable for of photo identification,” in order to vote in the canvass.

“It’s a very common process that parties regularly use to nominate candidates. Voters, vote. Those votes are tallied, and the winner becomes the nominee. That’s an over simplified version, but the details are all part of the rules that the committee sets,” Morgan explained. “The committee, myself and the candidates will all be able to observe, and we’ll have a clear winner sometime Thursday night, and that person will become – once I certify them to the state – they will become the nominee.”

To view the full list of rules for the canvass, CLICK HERE.

News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais spoke with two of the six candidates about the canvass on Thursday.

“After much prayer, I decided to run because Southwest Virginia needs a fighter to protect us from liberal Democrats in Richmond,” Candidate Elijah Leonard said.

After Sen. Chafin died from complications of COVID-19, candidates did not have much time to decide whether to run, campaign and drum up support, Leonard explained.

“Short circumstance that we have here, there’s not really a whole lot of campaign events going on but what we have done is we’ve built a Facebook campaign, which shows a lot of live feeds, but Thursday we’re going to be spread out all across Southwest Virginia at different polling locations, so as far as any type of a campaign, to drum up voters there’s not really much of a, it’s just such short notice, everything was a super rush here, so as far as drumming up voters, we really fought to get our message out absolutely as fast as possible and we really tried to hit all the high points and really rally our base,” he told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais.

For Candidate Jony Baker, Thursday’s canvass means taking the first step in representing the people of Southwest Virginia in Richmond.

“Thursday means to me, representing Southwest Virginia’s 38th District. Being able to go to Richmond and carry the voices of all of Southwest Virginia’s 38th District and surrounding areas, you know, the voices of the people. Let Richmond and other places know what’s important to us. Now, for too long people have said that Southwest Virginia does not matter, but it does matter, and it matters to all of us that live here, and we just need our voices heard,” he told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais.

Baker added that voting is what “makes America great,” and urges those eligible in the 38th District, to vote on Thursday.

“I want everyone to come out to the polls, I want all the people in the Southwest, in the 38th district, to come out and vote for one of your own. Vote for Jony Baker for state senate, so I can go proudly represent each and every one of you all and come out and make your voices known because our votes do matter, they do matter. Our voices matter. This is part of what makes America great – being able to go out and vote, and I understand everyone’s kind of beaten down with politics and elections, things like that, but the fight continues. We need to still do what we have, you know, as our voice, and that is to vote,” Baker added.

Campaign promises

“I had no intentions of running for senate, but I will tell you this: Southwest Virginia, we need a fighter, now more than ever. I fought for our country in the military, I fight for taxpayers on the Lebanon Town council, and I fought to save lives of children in Virginia by passing critical legislation, and if I’m elected to be the next state senator of the 38th district, I will never stop fighting for Southwest Virginia, and people need to understand how important this is, because with our Constitutional rights constantly under attack, there’s a few just like the Second Amendment, and you can tell I’m passionate about that, but if we lose our Second Amendment, we lose all rights, period,” Leonard said.

Both Baker and Leonard told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais that they hope to represent the conservative values of those who call Southwest Virginia “home” if elected to the Virginia Senate.

“One of my first priorities is defending our Constitutional rights from the continuing assault from Richmond, and that’s a main goal of mine. From constantly shifting lockdowns, to the proposed gun bans – we need a fighter to stand up to Northam and the Democrat bullies in the legislature. The other top priority, is to ensure that we have access to affordable, rural broadband in our region. High speed internet is an educational, and not only an educational, but an economic must have for Southwest Virginia, and I’ll fight to get that funded in Richmond,” Leonard explained.

Baker shared much of the same sentiments.

“Stand up for our beliefs, way of life and you know, our amendments – the Constitution – and fully fund law enforcement, and strictly go by the Constitution of the United States,” he said.

But filling this seat comes after Virginia suffered the loss of Sen. Chafin, so both candidates explained that it was a tough decision to make.

“To Sen. Ben Chafin’s family, I offer my deepest condolences. He was a great patriot for Southwest Virginia, a great voice in Richmond and beyond, and I honorably look to pick up that banner, and serve him honorable – his memory honorably – his family, and continue to the fight for Southwest Virginia and make sure everyone knows that Southwest Virginia does matter,” Baker said.

Leonard explained that he is friends with Chafin’s children.

“One of the last boxes that I needed to check off before I decided to actually run for the late Sen. Ben Chafin’s seat, was I needed to speak with the family, and before I really announced to anyone that I was going to run, I called and had a very cordial phone call with the Chafin family, and that was just on my heart to do, because I didn’t want them to find out from anybody else that I may be possibly running for that seat and I’m a friend of Ben’s children, so that was really a main priority of mine to make sure that I had the graces of the family,” he said.

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