5141729818_7bf0167a7d_o 5141729818_7bf0167a7d_o

Republicans in southwestern Virginia are headed for an intra-party fight, as Ken Heath, a director of community and economic development in Marion, announced he would run as an independent and challenge the Republican nominee in the race to replace retiring state Sen. Bill Carrico (R-40).

Heath said he decided to run as an independent because it is the “only way voters can have a choice” and said his frustration lies largely with the district party’s “mass nomination process,” in which only residents who attended an April 25th meeting in far-flung Gate City would have a say in who the party’s nominee would be. Heath appealed the location and time of the meeting and suggested holding a primary to count the votes of all district residents, but his appeals were rebuffed.

Heath said that the mass nomination process stacked the deck against him and was simply meant to “coronate” Carrico’s chosen successor, and likely, the district’s next senator.

Indeed, the district leans heavily Republican and Carrico hadn’t faced a Democratic challenger since 2011, meaning whichever candidate earns the Republican nomination will be the frontrunner.

The race to replace Carrico has been mired in controversy ever since he announced his retirement and publicly endorsed Republican Del. Todd Pillion (R-4). Carrico had given Pillion a heads up about his intentions, but waited to announce his retirement publicly until after the deadline.

Heath, who had previously said he’d only run if Carrico retired, hinted that the timing of Carrico’s retirement announcement was meant to secure the nomination for Fillion.

As of now, Heath and Pillion would be the only two names on the ballot this November. There is currently no Democrat running for the seat, but WinVirginia, a Democratic PAC, is trying to change that.

The group announced last week that it was launching its 2019 Starter Fund, which seeks to encourage prospective candidates to run in districts where there is currently no Democratic candidate.

Among the eligible districts is Senate District 40.

The group said that the first 10 candidates who passed their application process would earn $3,000 in funding to help kickstart their campaign.

With Heath now running as an independent, it may open the door for a longshot Democratic bid for the seat.

Republicans hold a 21-19 edge in the state Senate, so every contested race gives Democrats one more shot at flipping the Senate, and as Ken Heath might say, one more choice for voters.