Bart Blackwell appears to have won the election for South Carolina House District 81, beating opponent KT Ruthven 1,038 votes to 994, with all but absentee ballots counted.
Blackwell got 51 percent of the vote, Ruthven got 49 percent.
Absentees typically are counted the day after an election. The state Election Commission will certify the returns later.
With a 2-percentage-point margin, Blackwell avoided a mandatory recount. State law requires one when the margin is 1 percent or less.
Ruthven finished on top in the June 14 primary with 1,357 votes, or 43 percent, and Blackwell came in second with 848 votes, or 27 percent. Chris Austin and Jeremy O’Donnell rounded out the field.
There is no Democratic candidate for the seat in the General Election.
“I’m surprised,” Blackwell said late Tuesday. “We had 16 points to make up and didn’t really think that was possible, but somehow it just happened.”
Blackwell noted that turnout was even lower for the runoff – about 7 percent – than the 9 percent who voted in the primary.
“Some of predictions were that KT had such a commanding lead that his people wouldn’t show up. My folks knew I needed every vote,” he said.
Blackwell now has to wait seven months before he can begin legislating.
“We’ll have to see what the pressing issue will be at that time,” he said. “We still have work to do on the roads, and I’m passionate about education. Term limits is an interesting thing – we’ll see if there’s really a consensus.”
Ruthven resigned as Aiken County Republican Party chairman to seek the state House post, left vacant by the retirement of Don Wells.
Blackwell, the president of B&S Machine Tool Inc. and an Air Force veteran, favors funding roads and bridges through raising the state gas tax with an offset in income tax, while Ruthven opposed any new taxes and signed a pledge to that effect.
Before Tuesday’s vote, Blackwell cited his experience as another key difference between him and Ruthven.
“I have been living the issues manufacturers and businesses deal with every day, and I have intimate knowledge of those issues because I’m on the receiving end of decisions made in Columbia and Washington,” he said.
He also supports boosting technical education to prepare young people to take jobs with big industries, such as Boeing and Bridgestone, that have come to South Carolina and Aiken County. One of the biggest challenges his business faces is finding skilled workers, he said.
Another of Blackwell’s top priorities is ethics reform. It got some attention in “the eleventh hour” of the recently concluded legislative session, but there’s still “lots to be done,” he said.