Waste-hauling millionaire Scott Wagner is GOP pick to challenge Tom Wolf
HARRISBURG — State senator and waste-hauling millionaire Scott Wagner won the three-way Republican primary contest Tuesday 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 sharp-elbowed 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, and he spread hundreds of thousands more around the state since last year to boost GOP committees and candidates.
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, and she and Mango were relative unknowns when they began their campaigns.
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 — “I am going to be the next governor, take that to the bank,” he said last year — 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 fashions himself as a garbage man coming to clean up a profligate state government that chokes the economy with regulations and taxes. He singles out public-sector labor unions as a particular target of his vitriol and has inspired comparisons to President Donald Trump.
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.
Wolf likely will attack Wagner as posing a danger to programs for children, schools and seniors, while Wagner likely will attack Wolf as a serial tax hiker, an out-of-touch elitist and a lousy leader.
The governor leads a unified Democratic Party into the fall with midterm political winds at his back.
Wolf's polling numbers suggest he is in a comfortable spot to seek re-election, political scientists say, and he has worked to show that 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, while Wagner reported $2.2 million.