The Republican primary race to fill retiring state Rep. Joe Wilkinson’s seat will be reopened to allow more candidates to join current contenders Graham McDonald and Deborah Silcox, according to the Georgia Republican Party.

Former Sandy Springs City Councilman, and current state House candidate, Graham McDonald.

Ryan Mahoney, a Republican Party spokesperson, would not comment on the reason for reopening the qualifying period for candidates in the House District 52 race. The party is also reopening qualifying in the north Georgia mountains’ House District 3 race, which also involved an incumbent dropping out of the race after qualifying.

But the House District 52 race sparked a bitter political dispute as Wilkinson dropped out of the race after qualifying while alleging McDonald was part of “plot” by Sandy Springs leaders to replace him with a last-minute candidate. Wilkinson further implied that Silcox was picked as his own last-minute successor.

Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul, who is chairing McDonald’s campaign, said he heard of the qualification reopening from a friend on the state Republican Party’s executive committee.

“The primary focus apparently was HD 3 and there were allegedly some who felt that to be consistent they should also open [the] 52 [qualifying], even though there were multiple candidates and less concern about that one,” Paul said in an email.

McDonald and Silcox both spoke in favor of the decision, while also expressing surprise.

“I believe that anyone that would like to seek public office has every right to do so,” McDonald said. “If there are others who would like to join this election, I would welcome them.”

“I have heard they are going to do that and I think it’s great because I think there are some other people who would have wanted to run,” said Silcox. “I think that the whole way that this [race] came about was not ideal.”

State House candidate Deborah Silcox.

“I’ve never heard of this before,” Silcox said of the latest twist in the controversial campaign. “This whole thing—I’ve never run for office before. It’s been eye-opening. It’s really just like, ‘Wow, you’ve got to be kidding.’”

McDonald said he understands why the party would have such a rule allowing qualifying periods to be reopened. “I support the rationale behind this rule,” he said.

The new candidate qualifying period will run April 6 and 7, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., at the state Republican Party headquarters at 3110 Maple Drive, Suite 150, in Buckhead. Candidates must present a photo ID and pay a $400 filing fee.

The state primary election date remains set for May 24.

House District 52 covers parts of Buckhead, Sandy Springs and northwest Atlanta. The race has no candidates from other parties, so the winner of the Republican primary will win the seat.

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.