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The front-runner in one of West Virginia’s state delegate races is a college freshman who won her primary while still in high school. Meet Saira Blair, an 18-year-old Republican and the daughter of a state senator, who says she wants to get into politics to encourage her generation to stay in-state and grow the economy. Political editor Lisa Desjardins reports.
Saira Blair, the 18-year-old West Virginia University student profiled in this piece, was elected to the state House on Tuesday.
On this election eve, we end our broadcast with an unusual profile.
Political editor Lisa Desjardins introduces us to a first-time candidate and front-runner who is only 18 years old.
Sunday afternoon, and the Blair family's dining table is a tiny battleground.
SAIRA BLAIR, Republican State Representative Candidate:
We're doing another round that will go out that will hit right before the election to the district, about 4,000 of them this time.
Four thousand handwritten campaign letters, handwritten by a person whose age group communicates mostly with keyboards.
This is why 18-year-old Saira Blair may become the youngest person ever to serve in the West Virginia state legislature and one of the youngest ever in U.S. history.
They will probably throw it away 15 seconds late, but at least they have seen that I put the work in and that I really do care about their vote and making sure that they get out to vote.
Would you guys want to do the elementary school, like you did for the primary?
I don't care.
Saira and her homegrown team scored a huge win the spring. She won state the Republican primary for state delicate by 144 votes, beating the incumbent by actually touting her age.
West Virginia has had the same population since about 1980. We're the only state that is going to end up decreasing population soon.
And one of the biggest problems is people my age, they get their high school education here, they get their college education here, and then they leave, because they find a good-paying job. And so I want to be a part of making sure that my generation stays in West Virginia, and we help to cultivate economic growth that right now isn't there.
CRAIG BLAIR, Father/Campaign Manager:
She knew full well what she was getting into when she stepped into the arena. No, I'm not concerned about any of that.
Craig Blair is father and campaign manager both. Oh, and he's also the area's state senator. So, Saira grew up in his campaigns, watching him win. Then, this spring, he watched her.
I had been doing radio commentary that night on the election, so I couldn't actually be there. But I was able to be the one that proclaimed that she had won her race on the radio. And I asked — I said, can I make the call on this? And they said, you sure can. And I called the election for Saira Blair.
I wasn't running because I thought he had done a poor job. I was running because I wanted to represent my generation and I wanted to represent the people of Berkeley and Morgan County.
The two counties are a mix of needs. They're on the eastern edge of West Virginia. Maryland is down the road in one direction and the Appalachian Mountains in the other. Those in the eastern part of this district earn incomes well above state average. Those near the mountains earn well below.
In all, Saira would represent about 18,000 people. Her campaign is run on free help from friends and a roughly $17,000 budget; $3,600 of that came from Saira's college fund, maybe earned from working on the family's apple orchard.
So, I was kind of taking a gamble with it when I put it into my campaign. But I think it was well worth it.
And I received a lot of scholarships for college. So, I was able to still manage to pay for both.
AMBER FEMI, Volunteer:
I think it just — not makes you grow up faster, but it just puts your, like, life in perspective. Like, I would rather be doing this than be out with my friends.
You may wonder how Saira plans to be a lawmaker and full-time student. If she wins, she will only attend college in fall semesters, reserving the springs for lawmaking. That's when the legislature is in session.
Amber, it's your time to get involved.
She doesn't always sound like it, but this is a teenager. Just over a year ago, this kind of command wasn't there for Saira.
Up until really my junior year of high school, I was terrified of public speaking, absolutely terrified of it. I couldn't do three sentences without actually getting a panic attack and sweating and turning red. And it so was nerve-racking every time that I had to go in front of a crowd. It has definitely helped me grow as a person. I have gotten better at it. And it's not quite as difficult as it was ever used to be.
She will get plenty more practice if she wins. And Saira is the front-runner in her delegate race, an 18-year-old front-runner who has one more surprise to her. You can be skeptical, but she insists that, after college, she doesn't want to be a politician.
I'm only worried about November 4 at the moment. It's too soon to say. But I'm going to school for a major in economics. And I would like to be a financial adviser. That's where I see myself in 10 years, not on the steps of Washington, D.C., by any means.
Lisa Desjardins, "PBS NewsHour."
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