Candidates from left, seeking the Republican Party’s nomination to challenge Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s re-election bid, Pennsylvania Sen. Scott Wagner, R-York County, Laura Ellsworth and Paul Mango take part in the Montgomery County Republican Committee gubernatorial forum in Blue Bell, Pa., Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017. (Photo: Matt Rourke, AP)
But the similarities could also put Wagner in a difficult position this November. Trump was the first Republican presidential candidate to win the state since 1988. He did that, in part, by flipping historically Democratic areas, including Luzerne County and Erie County.
But Trump has low approval ratings, and there have been bad signs for Republicans in Pennsylvania elections. A November backlash could hurt a lot of Republican candidates.
“There’s a wave coming, the size of which we don’t know,” said G. Terry Madonna, a pollster and political science professor at Franklin & Marshall College.
So, is Wagner the Pennsylvania Trump? Yes, no, and voters will decide.
The case for Wagner as Pa.’s Trump
Philadelphia magazine laid out the similarities earlier this year: “They’re both big-talking, hard-charging businessmen with multiple marriages who bum-rushed their way into politics even though the Republican establishment did everything in its power to stop them.”
Wagner told abc27 that
“Donald Trump is actually a mini-Scott Wagner.”
Here’s a look at the similarities.
1. They challenged Republican leaders.
Back when Wagner first ran for state Senate, his 2014 campaign had similarities to Trump’s 2016 presidential victory.
It was Wagner’s first time running for elected office. He was an outsider focusing on his business background. He challenged leaders in his own party, withstood tough attacks from them and defeated the Republican nominee through a write-in campaign.
2. Wagner has shared Trump’s ability to make headlines with his aggressive language.
Both are known as tough talkers. Trump mocked his
rivals with nicknames, said he “would bomb the (expletive) out of” ISIS, and told a crowd to “ knock the crap” out of anybody trying to throw a tomato at a rally.
Wagner’s tough talk has frequently made headlines, too.
3. The 2018 governor’s race has had similarities to Trump’s 2016 run.
Before Steve Bannon had a big falling out with Trump,
he praised Wagner.
Wagner has said he supported Trump because he represented change — and he says he’ll represent the same thing in Pennsylvania.
“I went to Harrisburg for a reason: because I was fed up with all the regulations. I was fed up with how government operated,” Wagner said at a March 1 debate. “And Donald Trump went to Washington for that exact same reason.”
4. Criticism of Wagner has echoes of Trump.
Mango, one of Wagner’s Republican opponents, has clashed with him over bathrooms and rights for transgender people.
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas criticized Trump over the same issue.
Mango says Wagner supported legislation that would allow anyone to walk into girls’ locker rooms, putting children in danger. Wagner said he’s a co-sponsor of anti-discrimination legislation dealing with housing, employment and public accommodations, but he doesn’t support “boys and girls sharing bathrooms.”
Wagner also responded to criticism with a Trump tactic. He called
Mango “lying Paul.” (“Lying Ted” was Trump’s nickname for Cruz.)
Meanwhile, the Democratic Party of Pennsylvania wants to embrace the comparison between Wagner and Trump.
In February, after Wagner and U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta won the GOP endorsements for governor and U.S. Senate, respectively, the
Democratic Party of Pennsylvania‘s executive director said the GOP was backing “a statewide ticket that is as Trumplike as possible in both policy and irresponsible style.”
5. They’ve made an issue of illegal voting.
As a state senator, Wagner has gotten a lot of attention for criticizing government spending and clashing with unions — not for immigration issues.
But after a Republican lost a special election for Congress in southwestern Pennsylvania, Wagner got national attention for saying that the state needs to focus on making sure non-citizens aren’t improperly on voter rolls.
Meanwhile, Trump has insisted that he won the popular vote in the presidential election
“if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally” — a claim that PolitiFact has called inaccurate and ridiculous.
President Donald Trump, right, acknowledges the crowd during a campaign rally with Republican Rick Saccone, Saturday, March 10, 2018, in Moon Township, Pa. Saccone was running in a special election for Congress. He lost. (Photo: Keith Srakocic, AP)
The case against Wagner as Pa.’s Trump
But for all those similarities, there are also plenty of notable differences.
1. Trump wasn’t Wagner’s first choice.
Instead, Wagner backed
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker — a Republican known for clashing with public-sector unions. Wagner is known for the same thing.
But Walker dropped out of the presidential race early, before the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary. And by the summer of 2016, Wagner was fully behind Trump, publicly talking about how he was bringing more Trump yard signs to Pennsylvania.
2. Wagner became a party leader more gradually than Trump.
After Wagner was elected to the state Senate in 2014, he spearheaded an effort to oust the Republican Senate majority leader. He took a leadership role with the Senate Republican Campaign Committee.
Wagner has helped Republicans flip state Senate seats in Erie County and other parts of the state.
All of that happened before the GOP endorsed him for governor.
Marc Scaringi, an attorney and radio host who was a delegate for Trump at the Republican National Convention in 2016, is also backing Wagner. Scaringi thinks that endorsement is “a reflection of the party getting on board with him.”
3. Wagner’s tweets are pretty standard.
Wagner has stirred up controversy and gotten attention with statements this campaign, such as when he called for a mandatory death penalty for any school shooter who kills someone. But he got that attention the seemingly old fashioned way of actually saying words into a microphone.
Wagner doesn’t make much news on Twitter.
4. Wagner’s ads, so far, are hitting on different themes.
Wagner’s YouTube channel, and you’ll see ads of him talking about cutting wasteful spending, eliminating property taxes, and taking on Harrisburg insiders.
So while those ads present Wagner as an outsider just like Trump was, they aren’t focused on immigration and free trade — two issues that helped set Trump apart from other Republican candidates.
That could be a simple reflection that state issues are different than national ones, although the Republican candidate in the 2017 Virginia governor’s race got national attention for ads
about illegal immigration and gang members.
5. Wagner wasn’t a TV celebrity. He isn’t as wealthy as Trump. And York County is not New York City.
According to Trump, he got a
“small loan” of $1 million from his father to help him launch his real estate ventures. According to The Associated Press and other news organizations, Trump got a lot more support from his father than just that loan.
But either way, Wagner, who has talked about growing up on a York County family farm, started out with less than Trump.
6. “I do a lot more research.”
That’s what Wagner told a York Daily Record reporter in 2016 when he was asked about the Trump comparison.
It’s a view that Madonna agrees with.
Wagner got a
lot of attention and criticism for comments about the cause of global warming. He blamed rising temperatures on body heat from people and he said the Earth was moving closer to the sun.
But, overall, Madonna said, “He has a much better understanding of state issues than Trump did of national issues.”
The voters will judge
But the most important similarity between Wagner and Trump could be the most obvious one.
The GOP lost big in the Philadelphia suburbs in the 2017 municipal elections. And there’s that Republican candidate in southwestern Pennsylvania who lost in the March special election.
Conor Lamb, the Democratic candidate for the March 13 special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District, celebrates with his supporters at his election night party in Canonsburg, Pa., early Wednesday, March 14, 2018. (Photo: Gene J. Puskar, AP)
The 2018 election could end up being a referendum on Republicans in Washington, said Borick the pollster and political science professor at Muhlenberg College.
Scaringi, the attorney and Wagner supporter, sees a blue wave coming out of Philadelphia and its suburbs. But he thinks Wagner’s style would help him turn out the Republican base and flip some Democrats in southwestern and northeastern Pennsylvania.
Wagner has said he would welcome a Trump visit to Pennsylvania. But his campaign spokesman, Andrew Romeo, also said he knows there’s more to this election.
“Tom Wolf, the Democrats, and the media want this race to be solely about Donald Trump,” Romeo said. “Scott believes it is about the people of Pennsylvania.
This story comes to us through a partnership between WITF and The York Daily Record.