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Candidate for governor Scott Wagner touts similarites to Trump

| Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017, 11:00 p.m.
Christian Tyler Randolph | Tribune-Review
State Sen. Scott Wagner, a York County Republican, discusses his announced candidacy for governor at a press event at Cleveland Brothers in Murrysville, Pa. on Thursday Jan. 12, 2017.

Supporters and detractors alike describe Scott Wagner, a 61-year-old freshman state senator from York County, as “Donald Trump-lite.”

“I think when you check me out, you're gonna find I'm the real deal,” Wagner told dozens of supporters Thursday at Cleveland Brothers Equipment Co. in Murrysville, one of several stops on a two-day state tour to announce his candidacy for the Republican nomination for governor. The election is in 2018.

Similar to what's expected from the president-elect, Wagner has been a bit of a disrupter in Harrisburg since being elected almost three years ago. He also has affection for President-elect Trump.

“Donald Trump is a visionary and he's a leader,” Wagner said in an interview. “He cares deeply about this country, and I care deeply about this country.”

In some respects, Wagner was Trump before Trump, said Terry Madonna, a political science professor at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster.

“He came into the Senate as an outsider,” Madonna said. “He has consistently had this outsider, anti-establishment view.”

But replicating the “change” campaign Trump ran nationally to fit Pennsylvania is no easy task.

“The challenge is whether you can take the Trump campaign at the national level and replicate it, not just in terms of style, but the ‘change' focus that Trump has,” Madonna said. “In 2016, the voters voted for change. His challenge is to use the environment Trump used.”

In an interview, Wagner said his greatest legislative accomplishment has been “changing the culture of Harrisburg.”

Early when he took office, Wagner led a push to oust a top Republican senator from suburban Philadelphia from a leadership post whom Wagner had blamed for halting key conservative policies. His Harrisburg colleague, state Sen. Don White, R-Indiana County, said Thursday that Wagner's influence in that backroom effort encouraged him to seek re-election.

Now, Wagner is looking to oust another powerful figure: Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf.

There are a few similarities between Wagner and Wolf: They're both multimillionaires and respected businessmen who hail from York County in south central Pennsylvania. And both say they got into politics to change “the status quo” in Harrisburg.

But a contest between the two would be one of opposing policies and personalities.

Wagner grew up on a farm where he shoveled manure and says he barely made it through high school. Wolf lives in Mount Wolf, a town named for family, and he eventually went on to run the family kitchen furniture company. Wagner has been described as “a pit-bull.” Wolf, who touts his advanced degrees, portrays himself as a brainy tactician.

As governor, “you need skills — you don't need a Ph.D.,” Wagner said.

The Pennsylvania Democratic Party has labeled Wagner as “the very worst of Harrisburg,” saying he “represents everything that's wrong with the Legislature.”

As long as there's a Democratic governor and a Republican-controlled Legislature, “we're not going anywhere,” Wagner says.

Kevin Zwick is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-2856 or kzwick@tribweb.com.

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