5 candidates qualify to replace GOP state Sen. Charlie Bethel

Four GOP candidates and an independent have qualified to replace Georgia state Sen. Charlie Bethel, R-Dalton, in a Dec. 13 special election, raising the possibility of a runoff after next year's legislative session starts Jan. 9.

Among the contenders:

  • Conda Goodson, a community volunteer who Bethel defeated handily in May's GOP primary.
  • Chuck Payne, former chairman of the Whitfield County Republican Party who also worked on the Georgia presidential campaign of Dr. Ben Carson.
  • Shell Underwood, an life insurance and annuities agent and former teacher who ran unsuccessfully earlier this year for a seat on the Whitfield County Commission.
  • Billy Vinyard, a Tunnel Hill contractor.
  • Debby Peppers, an attorney who is running as an independent in the race.

Any winner of the contest for Bethel’s former seat, which includes parts or all of Gordon, Murray, Pickens, and Whitfield counties in north Georgia, must clear 50 percent of the vote tally. If not, the top two vote-getters would be pitted against each other in a runoff.

Bethel, 40, won reelection to the state Legislature as recently as last Tuesday. But a day later, Gov. Nathan Deal announced Bethel's appointment to the Georgia Court of Appeals, effective Jan. 1. Bethel then resigned his seat, ending a six-year legislative career during which he served as Deal's floor leader in the Senate chamber.