GROVE CITY – Republicans in Mercer and Butler counties are set to choose a candidate tonight for the March 17 special election.

GOP leaders in the state House 8th District will meet tonight at Grove City College to choose from among 12 candidates to run in the special election for the state house seat vacated by former state Rep. Tedd Nesbit’s election as Mercer County Common Pleas Court judge.

The meeting is closed to the public.

Democrats are moving to declare their own candidate. Andrew Harkulich, Mercer County Democratic party chairman, said Phil Heasley, of Center Township, Butler County, has declared his desire to run for the seat. 

Another candidate could enter the race. In that event, Harkulich said party precinct representatives from the district and party officers would hold their own meeting and choose between the two.

“There’s possibly a second candidate,” he said. “I’ll know tomorrow if this other candidate is going to run or not.’’ 

If no other candidate enters, Heasley would be the party’s choice, Harkulich said.

The special election covers 31 of Mercer County’s 90 voting precincts and 15 Butler County precincts.

With 12 declared candidates, the Republican party’s meeting tonight will likely be more complicated.

A Republican from the party’s state office in Harrisburg will conduct the process, said Virginia “Ginny” S. Richardson, chairwoman of the Mercer County Republican Party.

“All of this is being done under Republican bylaws,’’ Richardson said.

Republican representatives, known as conferees, from the two-county district will vote to select the nominee. Party bylaws dictates 11 conferees will come from Mercer County with nine from Butler County, she said. 

During the meeting, candidates will make a five-minute speech, followed by three minutes allotted for questions, Richardson said.

“After that a closed-door meeting is held to choose the nominee,’’ Richardson said.

Under party bylaws a candidate must be nominated by a conferee and be seconded by another conferee, she said. If neither happens that person is no longer considered a candidate.

Also, the winning candidate must secure a majority vote among the conferees to be a winner. Conferees continue to vote until one candidate gets a majority, 11 votes, Richardson said.

Richardson said she was told at least two candidates will not attend the meeting. She wasn’t sure how that would be treated under party bylaws. 

“But it would mean to me they were no longer interested in being a candidate,’’ Richardson said.

Richardson said she is not a conferee. 

“Its been an interesting procedure,’’ she said, with a laugh.

Mercer County Commissioner Scott Boyd is among the conferees.

“We got the opportunity to meet them informally Monday night in Grove City,’’ Boyd said of the candidates. “Each made a statement and then there was time for mixing and mingling with people.’’

He speculated that given there are 12 candidates with 20 conferees, it might require multiple votes to declare a winner. He was unaware of any candidate who might be a favorite.

Boyd said Wednesday that he did not yet have a preference.

“I’m undecided,’’ he said.

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