State Lawmaker Wins GOP Nomination to Challenge Pennsylvania Governor

by | May 16, 2018 AT 9:33 AM

By Steve Esack

Scott Wagner, the Republican Party's endorsed candidate for governor, survived an expensive three-way primary Tuesday to set up a showdown in November with Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf.

With 91 percent of the state's precincts reporting, Wagner, a York County state senator and businessman, captured 46 percent of the vote, according to unofficial state totals.

Upstart Paul Mango, a retired health care consultant, finished second with 36 percent. Laura Ellsworth was third with about 18 percent.

Mango had virtually no ties to the state's political brass or business interests before launching his first run for elective office on a platform of military service and social conservatism.

Ellsworth, a resident of the Pittsburgh suburbs like Mango, is a corporate lawyer and nonprofit advocate who ran a bare-bones campaign centered on moderate GOP politics.

In his victory speech, Wagner, 62, called for party unity.

"I want to thank Paul and Laura for putting themselves forward as candidates," Wagner said. "It's not an easy thing to do and I believe that they did it for the right reasons.

"But primaries are family arguments. For those of you with brothers and sisters, you know that even though you argue, you always come together when it's time to stand up for family. Today it's time for us to stand up for family -- and look out for each other. I am looking forward to a unified Pennsylvania Republican Party."

In the Nov. 6 election, Wagner will run on the GOP ticket with Jeff Bartos, who won a four-way primary for lieutenant governor, unofficial results show. Bartos was Wagner's preferred candidate.

On the Democratic side, Wolf will run alongside John Fetterman, the Braddock, Allegheny County, mayor who pulled off the unthinkable by knocking off Lt. Gov. Mike Stack.

Fetterman did so by capitalizing on a progressive agenda that galvanized young Democrats fired up over President Donald Trump. Also, Stack could not overcome political baggage stemming from his frosty relationship with Wolf, who last year stripped Stack of his state police security detail and other state services, saying Stack and his wife were overly rude to them.

Wagner is a rags-to-riches millionaire. He grew up on a farm and started various businesses out of high school rather than go to college. He was a bail bondsman and landlord before starting two trash companies. The current one, Penn Waste, has multiple municipal contracts in central Pennsylvania. He also owns a trucking company.

Wagner used his wealth to make numerous contributions to Republican politicians before launching his own write-in campaign for a state Senate seat in 2014. To win that seat against the GOP's preferred candidate, Wagner spent his own money, a strategy he repeated during his primary gubernatorial run.

During the primary, Wagner spent nearly $12.1 million in TV ads, campaign staff and in-kind donations, including helicopter ferries, from his businesses, Department of State records show.

Mango, 59, also dipped into his own fortune in spending $7.7 million on his campaign. He spent that money promoting his military background as a West Point graduate and Army Ranger who received an honorable discharge in 1986. Mango also pushed social conservative issues while using negative ads to knock the conservative bona fides of Wagner.

A big part of Mango's expenses were tied up in a statewide commercial that mocked Wagner's personal and business life. It used cartoon imagery to call Wagner a "a slumlord" over landlord-tenant lawsuits, a toxic polluter over environmental citations at his trash company and a shady bail bondsman, mong other claims.

(c)2018 The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.)