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Scott Wagner Wins GOP Gubernatorial Primary, Will Face Gov. Tom Wolf in November

Matt Rourke

Republican Scott Wagner will face off against Gov. Tom Wolf this fall for the top office in Harrisburg.

Wagner, a state senator from York County, defeated two challengers in Tuesday’s GOP gubernatorial primary race. The Associated Press called the race just after 10 p.m.

Founder of trash-hauling company Penn Waste, Wagner sank millions of dollars into his own campaign, which focused on government size and spending.

Wagner was the only Republican candidate with prior political experience, having been elected to the state Senate in 2014 after waging a successful write-in campaign.

He garnered his party’s endorsement earlier this year, beating out challenger Paul Mango, who said he would run regardless of committee support. Wagner came out ahead of Mango again on Tuesday, and he fended off another candidate, Laura Ellsworth.


Mango and Wagner traded increasingly barbed attacks in TV ads leading up to Tuesday’s election. Mango, a former health care consultant, invested $7.2 million of his own money in a more than $9 million campaign that called Wagner “a slumlord” and “deadbeat dad.” Ellsworth, a Pittsburgh attorney, was widely outspent by her opponents, raising just under $1 million in 2017 and the first four months of 2018.

In his concession speech, Mango said while he hadn’t achieved his goal, the campaign had sent a strong message.

“Our theme has always been and will always be let’s restore the dream of America to the people of Pennsylvania,” he said. “The first role of a leader is to inspire others, and that’s what Pennsylvanians need, to be inspired again.”

Mango congratulated Wagner on a “spirited campaign,” and called on his supporters to help defeat Wolf in the general election.


Ellsworth, during her concession speech, told supporters: "I think we all know that this night did not turn out the way we wanted it to. We don't know yet who the winner will be. But I know that all of us in this room who have fought for so long to replace our sitting governor are going to get behind whoever wins and are going to help the Republican Party win in November."


Both Wagner and Mango sounded Republicans’ traditional clarion call of fiscal conservatism. But Mango, of Pine, presented himself as the true social conservative. The self-styled “outsider,” repeatedly slammed Wagner for advancing a liberal agenda, particularly what he called the senator’s “bathroom bill.”

Wagner supported legislation to amend Pennsylvania’s 1955 Human Relations Act in order to protect people from discrimination because of gender identity or sexual orientation. The senate bill stalled, but Mango claimed throughout the primary it would lead to boys sharing bathrooms with girls. In turn, Wagner called Mango a “phony,” alleging that the Army veteran was a leading supporter of Obamacare and helped outsource Pennsylvania jobs, claims Mango rejected.

This was Mango’s inaugural run for public office after decades in the private sector with management firm McKinsey & Company. In campaign documents, Mango said Harrisburg should focus more on job creation and less on the provision of social services, pinning the state’s problems on economic despair.

Ellsworth portrayed herself as the alternative while her opponents went negative with ads. Like Mango, this was her first time running for office.

But unlike her opponents, she did not support Donald Trump’s bid for the presidency. Instead, she said she voted for Ohio Gov. John Kasich in 2016.

She further separated herself from the field on property taxes. While Wagner and Mango said they would like to eliminate school property taxes and replace them with higher income and sales taxes, Ellsworth advocated for maintaining the funding stream to provide stability for schools. She also supported forming a bipartisan group to handle redistricting, rather than leaving the responsibility of drawing a congressional map to the Legislature.

Ellsworth works as an attorney in Pittsburgh and is partner-in-charge of global community service initiatives for the Jones Day law firm. She touted her involvement in civic groups during her campaign, including leadership roles with the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce and the Allegheny Conference on Community Development.

If Ellsworth had advanced Tuesday, she would have challenged Wolf to become the first woman elected governor of Pennsylvania.

Instead, Wagner will attempt to unseat the incumbent Democrat to become Pennsylvania’s 48th governor. Wolf, first elected in 2014, is looking to win his second term in the general election on Nov. 6.


Margaret J. Krauss is WESA’s senior reporter. She covers development and transportation, and has produced award-winning podcasts on housing, work, and Pittsburgh’s lesser-known history. Before joining the newsroom full time, she covered the challenges facing Pennsylvania cities as a statewide reporter, and spent another life as an assistant editor for National Geographic Kids Magazine in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at
Amy Sisk covers energy for WESA and StateImpact Pennsylvania, a public media collaboration focused on energy.
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