Republican state Sen. Louis Pate of Mount Olive announced his retirement Monday afternoon, and within hours the number of people who want his job representing District 7 had grown to seven.

Adding their names were Wayne County Commissioner Joe Daughtery, attorney Billy Strickland, Wayne County Young Republicans President Jay Bravo, Walnut Creek Commissioner Pete Benton, Lenoir County Commissioner Mac Daughety and Lenoir County businessman Jim Perry. They now join former Wayne County commissioner Steve Keen, who announced last Wednesday he wants the job.

The announcements came during the Wayne County GOP Executive Committee’s Monday night meeting, just hours after Pate submitted his retirement letter to Gov. Roy Cooper.

In the letter, Pate cited an unspecified health issue as the reason for his retirement — just a week after being sworn into his fifth term in the Senate.

Wayne GOP Chairman Freeman Hardison said he was surprised by the number of people interested in the position, adding that several have had political aspirations for sometime.

“It sound like to me that they have known for a long time that Sen. Pate was not going to be able to serve,” said Democrat David Brantley, who lost to Pate in the November election. “So it really sounds like if they have made that much progress that they had foreknowledge that Mr. Pate was not going to serve.

“In fact, I would suggest that they have known for a long time, not just within the last week or so.”

Since the district includes portions of Wayne and Lenoir, GOP leaders from the two counties will meet together to select a nominee to send to Cooper for approval to serve out Pate’s two-year term through 2020.

A weighted voting system will be used with most of the weight in favor of Wayne County, which has the most voters.

Questions about Pate’s health and ability to serve have been ongoing since prior to last November’s election after the News-Argus wrote about Pate’s absence on the campaign trail. Pate told constituents in a mailing that he was recovering from an undisclosed health complication and that this would be his final term in office.

At that time, the News-Argus contacted GOP officials for comment on questions concerning Pate’s ability to perform his duties, if elected, and a rumor that he planned to step down, if elected.

“I don’t know what your sources are, but they aren’t reliable,” Ray Martin, who was media director for the N.C. Republican Caucus said in October. “And if they aren’t willing to go on the record, they certainly aren’t. Sounds like another dirty rumor the Brantley campaign is spreading about Louis Pate.”

Brantley said he does not know what rumors the GOP was talking about.

“But it looks like they weren’t telling the truth, and it looks like whatever that rumor was may be true,” Brantley said.

What it means is that a person will now serve in that office who was not elected by the voters, he said.

Pate was unopposed in the May Republican primary.

Martin was contacted last Wednesday to see if he wanted to revise his early statement.

“I’m not with the GOP any longer — I’ve left to start my own company,” he said. “What I told you during the campaign was honest and factual. Circumstances have changed.”

He did not elaborate.