By MELINDA WILLIAMS
A victory in Virginia’s 38th District Senate race Tuesday gave the GOP the boost it needed to gain control of the Virginia Senate, as well as the General Assembly.
GOP candidate Ben Chafin Jr. defeated Democratic challenger Mike Hymes in a special election to fill the seat vacated by Sen. Phillip Puckett, who stepped down in June.
With 100 percent of the 159 district precincts reporting, unofficial results of the election had Chafin receiving 17,440 votes (60 percent) to Hymes’ 9,264 (32 percent), according to Virginia Board of Elections.
Independent candidate Rick Mullins garnered 2,512 votes (9 percent). In his home county of Dickenson, Mullins defeated both Chafin and Hymes, receiving 39 percent of the votes to Chafin’s 36 percent and Hymes’ 25 percent.
Chafin also won in Pulaski County, receiving support from 63 percent (2,885 votes) of registered voters who went to the polls. Hymes received 1,570 votes, while Mullins received 126.
The district’s closest race was in Radford City, where Chafin squeezed by Hymes with a margin of just 30 votes (778 to 748).
The closest race in Pulaski County was in New River District, where Chafin again defeated Hymes by a mere 30 votes (305 to 275). Among voters casting absentee ballots in Pulaski County, Chafin received 61 votes and Hymes, 60.
The lowest voter turnout was in Montgomery County. Only one person in the two precincts in the 38th District cast a ballot and that vote went to Chafin.
Republicans now control 21 seats in the Senate, while Democrats control 19. The GOP also controls the House of Delegates.
Puckett’s resignation from the 38th District seat gave Republicans control of the Senate. This resulted in a showdown with Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe over whether to expand Medicaid in the state’s budget.
According to Associated Press, the FBI is investigating a job the GOP-controlled Virginia Tobacco Commission may have offered to Puckett at the time of his resignation. Puckett attributed his resignation to undisclosed personal family issues and the desire to open the door for his daughter to receive a judgeship in Russell County. He denied having ever been “officially offered” a job with the tobacco commission.
Puckett had represented the 38th District since 1999.
In addition to Pulaski County, the district also includes the counties of Bland, Buchanan, Dickerson, Russell and Tazewell, parts of Montgomery, Smyth and Wise counties and the cities of Norton and Radford.