HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — State senator and waste-hauling millionaire Scott Wagner won Tuesday’s three-way Republican primary contest to challenge Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, capping a personal spending spree that helped make Wagner the front-runner and the GOP’s endorsed candidate.
Wagner defeated two first-time candidates from the Pittsburgh area, Paul Mango and Laura Ellsworth, surviving weeks of Mango’s attack ads that painted Wagner as sleazy, greedy and a “deadbeat dad.” Along the way, Wagner pumped more than $10 million of his own cash into his campaign.
Embracing the idea he’s the garbage man coming to clean up a profligate state government that chokes the economy with regulations and taxes, Wagner told the crowd at his election night party in York, “The trucks are empty, and they’re ready to go.” He accused Wolf of being “for sale” to moneyed campaign interests that have given him millions of dollars, such as labor unions.
“The people of Pennsylvania can and should have a governor who’s on their side, someone who’s a lot like them, and I’m a lot like all of you,” Wagner said.
Wolf’s campaign called Wagner “the very worst of Harrisburg,” the state capital, saying he’s blocking efforts to change Harrisburg and help families. It said Wagner has backed the state’s growing natural-gas industry against Wolf’s efforts to impose a severance tax on it.
Mango, a former health care systems consultant, fell short despite seizing the mantle of conservatism and spending $7 million of his own on the campaign. Ellsworth, a commercial litigation attorney, never mustered that kind of cash.
Tuesday’s victory for Wagner sets up a November election between two York County residents who made millions of dollars in business before entering politics, although their similarities don’t go much further.
Wagner is brash and has a penchant for off-the-cuff speaking that makes him a magnet for controversy. Wolf is soft-spoken and chooses his words carefully.
Wagner, 62, never graduated from college and says he “barely” got through high school. Wolf, 69, has a bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth College and a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Wagner has compiled one of the Senate’s most conservative voting records, although he occasionally goes against GOP orthodoxy on issues, such as supporting an increase in the minimum wage. His blunt talk has inspired comparisons to President Donald Trump.
Wolf leads a unified Democratic Party into the fall with midterm political winds at his back.
His polling numbers suggest he’s in a comfortable spot to seek re-election, political scientists say, and he has worked to show he can deftly operate the levers of government despite butting heads inside the state Capitol with huge Republican legislative majorities.
Wolf also will have a big cash advantage: Wolf headed into May with $14 million in his campaign account; Wagner reported $2.2 million.