This story has been updated to clarify that Jan. 9 is the last day for voters to register.
A special election is set for early February for a conservative south Georgia district to replace a state senator who died just days before Christmas.
State Sen. Greg Kirk, an Americus Republican who was first elected in 2014, died after a six-month battle with bile duct cancer. His vast district includes a large chunk of south Georgia, from Dooly County to Tift County.
The special contest to replace him is scheduled for Feb. 4, with a possible runoff on March 3, the Secretary of State’s Office announced Thursday morning – the same day qualifying began.
As of early Thursday afternoon, one person had qualified. Carden Summers, a Cordele Republican who ran for the seat in 2004, is the lone candidate so far. Qualifying ends at 1 p.m. Monday. The victor must immediately campaign for reelection later this year.
Thursday, Jan. 9 is the last day for voters to register.
The special election is the second one scheduled for early this year as lawmakers meet for the 2020 legislative session this month. State Rep. Jay Powell, a Camilla Republican, passed away unexpectedly in November, triggering a Jan. 28 special election.
Kirk, a businessman and former Baptist pastor, ran unopposed in 2018. He last faced a Democratic challenger in 2016, when he easily won with 72% of the vote.
When Kirk disclosed his diagnosis in June, he also announced his plans to seek reelection this year.
“I’m a fighter, I’ve always been a fighter,” Kirk said in an interview with WALB a few days before he died. “For five years I’ve fought for South Georgia and I’ve passed legislation every single solitary year.”
He told WALB that he was most proud of a 2015 bill he carried that gave legal protection to someone who rescues an elderly person or child left in a hot car.
In 2016, Kirk attracted headlines for religious liberty legislation that was ultimately vetoed. The measure would have exempted religious nonprofits that object to gay marriage from having to serve same-sex couples.