Republican State Senatorial candidate Scott Wagner, running a write-in campaign, beat candidates backed by both the Democratic and the GOP establishments in a Pennsylvania special election last week. Wagner’s victory over the establishment standard-bearers for the State’s 28th Senate district represents the first time a write-in candidate has ever won a seat in the Pennsylvania Senate.
Wagner, a businessman from York County, won an astonishing 48 percent of the vote with his write-in campaign. His GOP-endorsed opponent, State Representative Ron Miller, took 27 percent of the vote and Linda Small, the Democratic establishment pick, received 26 percent.
Local news reports covering the final days of the race indicate that the establishment upset surprised even the people paying the closest attention. And Wagner was at a serious disadvantage in the race. He was forced to fight the GOP establishment’s impudent attempts to shut him out at every turn while also actively campaigning against the Democratic candidate.
The election began following the January resignation of Republican Senator Mike Waugh, who left office abruptly to take a high-paying job offer. While most watchers assumed that the election to replace the outgoing lawmaker would occur during the already-scheduled March 20 primary, Republican Lt. Governor Jim Cawley set up a “snap” special election for March 18. The special election, which cost area taxpayers an estimated $300,000, was clearly called in order to help the State’s GOP cement the candidacy of establishment-picked Miller.
In an interview with Newsmax, Wagner recalled the party’s efforts to shut him out of the race.
“They let me submit my resume to the county committee, but then it was clear they were engineering the nomination for [Miller]. Then they pressured me to withdraw and the meeting was held in a firehouse on a Thursday instead of the Saturday that had been previously announced. The whole process made me want to vomit.”
Wagner, who had previously been a major donor to GOP candidates in the State, said that he decided to go ahead and run as a Republican despite the party powerbrokers’ efforts to keep him off the ballot.
“We did this the same way as my businesses,” Wagner said. “Strategy, study, capitalizing it well, and executing. We studied the voting machine carefully, taking pictures of it and making sure it was user-friendly for people to write my name in. We hired four full-time staffers, five part-time staffers, and retained a respected election lawyer. And we mailed voters repeatedly, with education on how to write my name in.”
Informing voters about the write-in process wasn’t the biggest problem Wagner faced running against the will of the State’s GOP establishment. Backers of the Miller candidacy ran ad campaigns painting Wagner, who owns a successful waste management company, as an out of touch businessman. One commercial even featured an elderly woman who claimed her life was ruined when Wagner sued her for $600 in trash collection fees.
Despite the attacks, Wagner said that it was easy for voters in his district to identify the better candidate.
“[T]here is one major difference between us,” Wagner told Newsmax. “He was a 16-year career politician and I’m a lifelong businessman. I’ll stay in office two terms and try to do something significant.”
The chairman of Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania (CAP), a political group that works to elect candidates outside of the political establishment, said that Wagner’s victory is a sign that voters are fed up with the choices they’ve been given in past elections.
“It further validates that the people are sick and tired and disgusted, in many ways, with the elite political class in Harrisburg, and they want something better,” CAP chair John Kennedy told the York Daily Record. “This is going to enhance our group for all the right reasons at the right time.”
The national implications of Wagner’s election could be massive at a time when conservative voters are increasingly disenfranchised by a Republican-in-name-only establishment. If the Pennsylvania Senator inspires like-minded citizens throughout the Nation, 2014 might mark the year that “government for the people, by the people” begins to sound achievable again.