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Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai exits GOP governor's race

| Saturday, Feb. 10, 2018, 12:24 p.m.
State Rep. Mike Turzai speaks during a debate among the four Republican candidates for governor at Carnegie Mellon University last month. Turzai announced Saturday, Feb. 10, 2018, he is dropping out of the race.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
State Rep. Mike Turzai speaks during a debate among the four Republican candidates for governor at Carnegie Mellon University last month. Turzai announced Saturday, Feb. 10, 2018, he is dropping out of the race.

Pennsylvania Speaker of the House Mike Turzai, R-Marshall, dropped his bid for the GOP nomination for governor Saturday, shortly before the Pennsylvania Republican Committee meeting was scheduled to vote on an endorsement.

The committee, which met in Hershey, subsequently voted to endorse state Sen. Scott Wagner. Wagner, 63, is a York County businessman and first-term state senator.

Turzai, 58, entered the race late .

He held off making an announcement until November and then found himself playing catch-up with Wagner and Allegheny County businessman Paul Mango, both of whom have personally funded multimillion-dollar primary campaigns.

Turzai has served in the House since 2001. He was elected speaker of the House in 2015 and previously served as majority leader.

Turzai could not immediately be reached for comment. But Turzai campaign strategist Jeff Coleman, of Churchill Strategies, said Turzai's commitment to hold off on campaigning until the state budget was complete left him at a disadvantage.

“It was primarily a matter of timing,” Coleman said.

Although Turzai's numbers improved in recent regional Republican Committee straw polls, Coleman said Turzai remained behind Wagner.

“The speaker caught up quickly, but he still faced two to three years of advance work (by Wagner), and that was a high wall to overcome,” Coleman said.

Coleman said Turzai decided instead to resume working to raise funds to maintain the House GOP majority.

“The House Republicans have a majority to defend and a number of competitive races,” Coleman said. “And at the highest level, there is really only one person with statewide ability to fundraise and preserve that majority, which is critical as a backstop to the Wolf agenda.”

Turzai's departure left three Republicans — Wagner, Mango and Allegheny County lawyer Laura Ellsworth — vying for an opportunity to unseat Gov. Tom Wolf this fall.

Debra Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-320-7996, or via Twitter @deberdley_trib.

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