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Rep. Tom Weldon, R-Ringgold

State Rep. Tom Weldon plans to formally withdraw from his re-election campaign Monday.

Weldon, R-Ringgold, announced March 17 he would not seek a fifth term in the state House of Representatives, though he had registered to run just 10 days earlier. Weldon's withdrawal left local Republicans divided on how to handle the election for the District 3 seat.

When Weldon announced his resignation, he told the Times Free Press he had told his opponent, Dewayne Hill, the seat would be open soon after Hill filled out his paperwork to run. Hill denies this, saying he had no idea Weldon would hand him an uncontested race.

Some members of the Catoosa County Republican Party are skeptical of the circumstances. They believe Weldon registered even though he never intended to campaign. Those members think Weldon put intended to keep other challengers at bay, allowing Hill to become the lone candidate race for an open seat.

"It appears that [Weldon] played a part in choosing his successor rather than letting the people vote," Teresa Tatum, second vice chairwoman of the Catoosa County Republican Party, said at the party's county convention March 19.

Weldon said that's not so. He said he is stepping down because he wants to focus on his law practice and spend more time with his family. He said he registered to run because he had not yet made up his mind about leaving state politics, and that he made his decision days later.

Nevertheless, members of the local party voted at the convention to ask Weldon to withdraw, assuming he still wants to abandon the campaign. If he does pull out, the group also voted to ask the Georgia Republican Party's executive committee to reopen qualifying for the seat.

Though qualifying ended March 11, the state party is allowed to give potential candidates a new, three-day window to register to run if the incumbent withdraws after the original period ended.

Denise Burns, chairwoman of the Catoosa County GOP, said the 60-person executive committee would hold an emergency vote whether to reopen qualifying. The move needs to happen soon, as Kennesaw State University's Center for Elections is printing ballots for the May 24 primary.

Hill did not return a call seeking comment Friday. But Weldon said he supports the executive committee allowing more candidates to compete for his seat.

"I'm open to the process," he said. "There are people that have the responsibility of dealing with those issues. I wish they weren't having to deal with that issue with respect to District 3. But there are just some things that I have to take care of [in my personal life]."

Nathan Smith, chairman of the 14th Congressional District Republicans and executive committee member, said Friday he has not made up his mind whether qualifying should be reopened.

"Anyone who met the qualifications to run for the 3rd state house district as a Republican could have qualified with the Georgia Republican Party in Atlanta during qualifying week earlier this month," Smith said in a statement.

"Having said that, it is also important for Republican voters to have a choice in who will best represent the Republican Party in November. I intend on keeping an open mind and talk [sic] with members of the Georgia Republican Party executive committee and Catoosa County Republicans in order do what's best for our Party and voters."

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at tjett@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6476.

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