Scott Wagner speaks with supporters, saying "This is historic."
Scott Wagner speaks with supporters, saying "This is historic." (John A, Pavoncello)

Update: Politicos and election officials are confirming Republican Scott Wagner's apparent victory in the 28th Senate as the first time a write-in candidate has won an election for state Senate in Pennsylvania.

Only about 22,300 voters cast ballots in Tuesday's special election, for a turnout of 13.6 percent, according to unofficial numbers from the county's elections office.

Here's The York Dispatch's coverage of the historic win:

In what appears to be an unexpected victory for a conservative businessman who has made a point of bucking his own party, Republican Scott Wagner is presumed to have won a write-in campaign to defeat party nominee Ron Miller for an open seat in the state Senate.

Ron Miller talks to reporters after conceding the Special 28th Senate race to Scott Wagner Tuesday night.
Ron Miller talks to reporters after conceding the Special 28th Senate race to Scott Wagner Tuesday night. (Bil Bowden)

The closely watched, hotly contested face-off ended in disappointment for the Republican mainstay and a first major victory for the tea party in York County.

With 100 percent of precincts reporting Tuesday night, write-in votes totaled 10,595, or 47.7 percent, to Miller's 5,920, or 26.6 percent. Democrat Linda Small of New Freedom nearly edged out Miller with 5,704 votes, for 25.7 percent.

If all or most of the write-in votes are, as expected, for Wagner, he will have won the race by a healthy margin. County elections director Nikki Suchanic said officials will start poring over the results Thursday, counting write-in votes and confirming their intended recipients. Preliminary election certification is expected for Monday, she said.

Strategy in motion: Miller conceded the race before 9:30 p.m., calling Wagner and congratulating him, he told a crowd of media gathered outside county Republican headquarters.

He said a lot of effort and support had been poured into the race, but his efforts fell short.

Wagner's camp gathered around him in a skybox at Santander Stadium, chanting "Senator Wagner" at one point during his victory speech.

Linda small thanks the crowd at Democratic Headquarters for their help.
Linda small thanks the crowd at Democratic Headquarters for their help. (Greg Gross)

Wagner said he and his supporters were told they couldn't run a successful write-in campaign, but he developed an in-depth strategy to respond to the "bombs" the "political hit-squad," the state GOP mainstay, would send his way.

Since announcing his candidacy in September, Wagner drafted hundreds of volunteers and planned ahead so much that all he had to do was pull a plan "off the shelf" and execute it when the time was right, he said.

His campaign was helped by the negative campaign ads the Senate Republican Campaign Committee, Republican Party of Pennsylvania and York County Republican Committee threw at him because they were in "very, very bad taste," he said.

While the Republican party has said it was "fighting fire with fire" with the ads, Wagner said his team "didn't even turn on our flamethrower.

"I never said a single slanderous thing," he said.

The race has been the most expensive York County state Senate race in history, according to politicos, with the state party and Wagner throwing hundreds of thousands of dollars into ads, billboards and political mailers.

Bridges burned: If Wagner is the certified winner of the race, he'll fill the seat left vacant by former Sen. Mike Waugh until the session ends Nov. 30.

Wagner must also win the May 20 primary to appear on the ballot for the Nov. 4 general election, the winner of which will fill the seat for a full 4-year term.

Miller, an incumbent representative in the state House from Jacobus, said he's going to make a decision within the next week about whether to run in the primary.

He didn't submit a petition to be on the primary ballot for his seat in the House, but both he and Small have done so for the Senate seat. Republican Zack Hearn of Windsor Township is also a contender.

Wagner said he was confident he could handle the fight if the GOP battles him even harder in the primary.

"I don't fear the Republican Party, trust me," he said. "They ran their best guy ... and he broke his legs halfway around the track."

He said a lot of damage has been done over the last 30 days of the race, and he will have to step back and evaluate how to work with a group of 49 other senators that include some same-party incumbents who didn't want him.

But he said he'll figure it out.

"I'm not going to the Senate for the next eight years to do nothing," he said.

Perhaps offering the first olive branch, Republican Party of Pennsylvania Chairman Rob Gleason released a statement congratulating Wagner on his presumed victory Tuesday night.

"Scott Wagner won a hard-fought race, and I am sure he will serve as a strong advocate for the people of the 28th District in the Senate," Gleason wrote.

He also commended Miller on "running a great race."

Wagner, who lives in Spring Garden Township and owns Penn Waste trash contractor, has run on a platform of smaller government and fiscal conservatism. The wealthy businessman has pledged not to take the state pension to which he would be entitled as a senator, and he has said he supports term limits and won't serve more than eight years.

Moving on: As the lone Democrat on the ballot for the primary, Small said she's turning her focus to the November general election.

"We're going to make the argument that we know how to change Harrisburg," she said. "I'm proud to be associated with this group of people (supporters). On to the next one."

- Staff writer Greg Gross contributed to this report. Reach Christina Kauffman at ckauffman@yorkdispatch.com.