Wagner wins GOP gubernatorial nod; Barletta to take on Casey
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania Republicans picked a tough-talking state senator and a staunch supporter of President Donald Trump to be their party’s nominees for governor and U.S. Senate, setting the stage for what is expected to be a hotly contested general election two years after Pennsylvania helped deliver the White House to Trump.
State Sen. Scott Wagner, a garbage magnate, will face incumbent Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, while U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta will take on Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey.
The Republican gubernatorial candidates spent more than $20 million on the primary ballot’s marquee race. The GOP contest for U.S. Senate was sleepier but could still play a role come November in deciding whether Republicans maintain control of the chamber.
Farther down the ballot, Democratic Lt. Gov. Mike Stack became the first holder of the office to lose in a primary, while all six incumbent U.S. House members — three Republicans and three Democrats — turned back primary challenges following Pennsylvania’s court-ordered redrawing of congressional maps. The new districts are expected to give Democrats their best shot in years of picking up seats long held by Republicans.
Voters also chose candidates for a host of open seats in the GOP-controlled Legislature.
Bad weather knocked out power to a handful of polling stations near Scranton, delaying the counting of paper ballots, while a storm-related gas leak temporarily closed a polling place in the tiny borough of Delaware Water Gap, in the Poconos, according to the Pocono Record. Officials there kept it open until 10:30 p.m.
Another threat — hacking — was not expected to be a factor in Tuesday’s election.
Pennsylvania was one of the 21 states targeted by Russian hackers ahead of the 2016 presidential election, according to federal authorities, but the Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday said there were no credible threats to the state’s election system.
Wagner, the GOP’s endorsed candidate, spent $10 million of his own money to beat a pair of political newcomers in Paul Mango, a former health care systems consultant and ex-Army paratrooper, and Laura Ellsworth, a commercial litigation attorney.
Wagner and Wolf are both York County residents who made millions in business before entering politics. The similarities end there.
Wolf is soft-spoken where Wagner is brash. Wolf has a Ph.D. from MIT; Wagner didn’t graduate from college.
Their policy differences are just as stark.
Wagner, who’s compiled one of the Senate’s most conservative voting records, fashions himself as a garbage man coming to clean up a wasteful state government that chokes the economy with regulations and taxes.
The Republican wasted no time in going after Wolf.
“The people will have a clear choice this fall — a bold disruptor who isn’t afraid to tell you like it is or a timid leader who is more interested in getting re-elected than getting things done,” he said in his victory speech Tuesday.
Wolf likely will attack Wagner as posing a danger to programs for children, schools and seniors.
John Fetterman won a five-way Democratic Party primary race for lieutenant governor — and made political history.
The Braddock mayor’s victory means he will run on a ticket with Wolf in the fall. He vanquished Stack, a former Philadelphia state senator, who became the first sitting for lieutenant governor to lose a primary.
Jeff Bartos, a real estate investor from suburban Philadelphia, beat three other candidates to win the Republican nomination.
Stack has had a chilly relationship with Wolf, who ordered an investigation into Stack and his wife over their treatment of state employees, including state police troopers. Wolf also stripped Stack of state police protection.
During his concession speech, Stack thanked supporters and said the lieutenant governor job is “a really special and important job and I’ve been honored to do it and I’m going to get to do it another eight or nine months.”
Referring to his late father, Stack said: “Dad used to say lick your wounds for about five seconds and then get back and get busy.”
Barletta first made a name for himself more than a decade ago when, as mayor of a small city, he tried to crack down on illegal immigration. He was among Trump’s earlier supporters and Trump, in turn, asked Barletta to run for Senate. The president is expected to visit Pennsylvania to campaign for him.
Barletta, who easily dispatched his Republican rival, state Rep. Jim Christiana, had spent the primary campaign focusing on Casey, the two-term Democrat and son of the late former governor.
In brief remarks in his hometown of Hazleton, Barletta said Tuesday night that Casey has tried to “resist, reject and obstruct” Trump’s agenda, and has moved so far left he doesn’t represent Pennsylvania any more.
In a statement, the Pennsylvania Democratic Party singled out Barletta’s tough stance on illegal immigration, saying he had built his political career on “scapegoating immigrants.” It also said Barletta backed Republican efforts to slash taxes for corporations and the wealthy and attack Medicare and Social Security, and that he would put Trump’s interests ahead of the people of Pennsylvania.
A court ruling that upended Pennsylvania’s congressional maps set off a wild scramble for the state’s 18 U.S. House seats.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court mandated a redrawing of the maps after concluding they were unconstitutionally gerrymandered to favor Republicans.
That prompted a bumper crop of 84 candidates — the most in 34 years — to run in 21 primary races. Democrats’ anti-Trump fervor and the fact that seven seats came open this year also helped spur the unusually high number of candidates and contested races.
The impact of the Supreme Court ruling could be seen Tuesday in Pennsylvania’s 5th Congressional District outside Philadelphia, which used to have a Republican majority but now tilts Democratic.
Mary Gay Scanlon won a 10-way Democratic primary Tuesday and will face Republican Pearl Kim in the general election.
Republican voter Eileen McCormick cast her ballot at a Presbyterian church in Havertown but seemed resigned to her party’s chances in November.
“I shouldn’t say this, but that was a wasted vote. That’s going Democratic,” she said.
A Democratic voter, Julie Nelson, said of the political shift with redistricting: “It’s about time. It’s what we need.”
Scanlon and Kim will vie for a seat that had been held by GOP Rep. Pat Meehan, who resigned amid allegations he used taxpayer money to settle sexual harassment allegations by a former aide.
Elsewhere, all six incumbents — Democrats Mike Doyle of Pittsburgh, Brendan Boyle of Philadelphia and Dwight Evans, also of Philadelphia; and Republicans Brian Fitzpatrick of Bucks County, Tom Marino of Lycoming County and Lloyd Smucker of Lancaster — turned back primary challenges.
A Republican state senator and two Democratic state representatives will be giving up their seats in the General Assembly after losing primary challenges in the Pittsburgh area.
Sen. Randy Vulakovich was beaten by Jeremy Shaffer, a township commissioner who ran as a more conservative alternative.
Rep. Paul Costa and Rep. Dom Costa, who are cousins, both lost to women who were backed by the Democratic Socialists of America. Summer Lee beat nine-term Rep. Paul Costa, the ranking Democrat on the Liquor Control Committee, while Sara Innamorato took out five-term Rep. Dom Costa.
Republicans picked up a Democratic seat in Washington County in a special election for a district most recently represented by Brandon Neuman, who left the Legislature after being elected judge last year. Republicans held onto a seat in a second special election in a Bradford County district. A third special election, in Bucks County, had not been called.
Both chambers of the Legislature have sizable Republican majorities.
Associated Press writer Claudia Lauer contributed from Havertown, Pennsylvania.