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Election 2010: The message in the results

Youngest legislator realizes GOP's dream

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

A longing for change reflected in election results nationwide this week helped the Georgetown County Republican Party reclaim state House District 108.

That’s something the GOP has tried to do since Democrat Vida Miller was first elected in 1996, but a succession of challengers came up short until now.

Kevin Ryan, 22, defeated Miller by more than 700 votes, according to unofficial results.

He will become the youngest member of the state legislature.

A strong Republican turnout and “a lot of dissatisfaction on a national and state level” contributed to his success, Ryan said.

“Kevin had the benefit of a pretty big anti-incumbency mood and also a general wave of conservatives, both independent and Republicans, who just wanted change,” said Tom Swatzel, county GOP chairman.

But Ryan’s merits shouldn’t be taken for granted, he added.

“He’s an extraordinary candidate who had a very good message for conservatives,” Swatzel said.

“He put a lot of effort into it and made direct contact with as many voters as he could.”

Ryan won Georgetown County by 1,147 votes. Jill Kelso, the candidate who came closest to beating Miller lost the county by 252 votes in 2008.

Swatzel has listed unseating Miller, 60, as the county party’s top priority since he was elected chairman in 2007.

Miller won easily in Charleston County, as she did in 2008, but turnout was lower, the margin was smaller and it wasn’t enough to make up for the loss of Georgetown County. Ryan garnered 405 votes there to Miller’s 848.

Miller conceded the race just before 10 p.m. Tuesday, before all the Charleston County precincts had even reported.

“I just don’t see how we can pull it off,” she said, talking on her cellphone at Steelworkers Union Hall in Georgetown, where she and a group of supporters gathered to await election results. She had a legal pad in front of her, where she kept a running tally as numbers were reported either by phone or online.

“Even if every person, dog and cat in the town voted, it wouldn’t be enough,” she said, waiting for the Awendaw results

Miller was dry-eyed as she gave a concession speech a few minutes later, but tears fell from several of her supporters, including her sister-in-law, Marcia Wilson, whose husband won an at-large seat on the county school board Tuesday.

“I just want to thank everybody for their support and friendship,” Miller told the crowd. “It’s been a great 14 years.”

She finished by saying she’s not going anywhere “and if you need me, you can still call me.”

After a round of hugs, she left for her home in Hagley Estates.

Ryan awaited the results at his home in Woodville Acres, with a small group of family, friends and supporters. The candidate was bent over a laptop computer perched on a coffee table.

Word of Miller’s concession was greeted with excitement, but skepticism.

Ryan got a call from House Speaker Bobby Harrell offering congratulations, but he was still reluctant to declare victory. He hadn’t seen any numbers from Charleston County and didn’t want to get ahead of himself, he said.

Even Swatzel seemed bemused. “What do we have to do to convince you that you’ve won?” he asked.

“I’m thrilled,” Ryan said Wednesday morning on his way to a meeting of the House Republican Caucus in Columbia. “It’s been a long process and I’m glad it’s behind us. I’m ready to get to work on these issues.”

Ryan will officially take office next Monday and begin an orientation program for freshman House members. He’ll also being doing his “homework” in the coming weeks. “I want to be ready to get to work as soon as the legislative session starts,” he said.

“The very first thing on my agenda is getting through this budget,” Ryan said. “It’s a very difficult process and there are some really tough choices to make.”

He’ll work to cut nonessential programs and agencies, and oppose any effort to raise taxes, he said. “That’s one of the biggest reasons people were interested in sending me up here.”

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