Republican Scott Wagner pulled off a stunning victory in Tuesday’s special election and made history in the process by becoming the first person ever to win a state Senate seat as a write-in candidate.
Taking advantage of a low voter turnout and a well-financed campaign that got his name in front of voters along highways, at major intersections, on TV and in mailboxes, Wagner waltzed past his party-endorsed opponents – Republican Ron Miller and Democrat Linda Small – to clinch a victory.
He will serve as the state senator representing the 28th District through Nov. 30, allowing Republicans to maintain their 27 to 23 majority in the chamber. The seat is up for election for a four-year term later this year.
York County’s unofficial vote totals show Wagner capturing 48 percent of the vote. Democrat Linda Small received 26 percent and GOP-endorsed candidate Ron Miller got 27 percent.
Turnout for this special election was dismal. Only 14 percent of the 163,617 registered voters in the senatorial district showed up at the polls to cast a ballot in the special election to identify a successor for longtime senator Mike Waugh, who resigned in January to become executive director of the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex.
York County Director of Elections Nikki Suchanic ventured a guess that part of the reason for the low turnout was the change in the senatorial district boundaries that occurred since the last time that seat was up for election.
That left some people unaware they were eligible to vote, and others who turned out to vote but couldn’t because they no longer lived in the 28th District.
Regardless, the votes that were cast gave Wagner, 58, of Spring Garden Twp., a resounding victory in a race that got exceedingly nasty toward the end.
Ads that were run cast Wagner as a bully and his trash hauling company, York-based Penn Waste, an environmental violator. Wagner responded with his own negative attack ad against on Miller and in recent days, Small too.
The attacks against him angered Wagner. He was astonished that his business-friendly Republican Party would go after a job creator like himself.
Those ads were funded by the Senate Republicans, the ranks of whom Wagner will now join.
On Tuesday evening, Wagner shrugged off those barbs at his victory party in a room inside in an empty Santander Stadium. He said he plans to try to work with his Senate colleagues.
“You sit down at the table. You drink a cup of coffee or you have lunch in somebody’s office and you have to learn a little bit of their story, and they have to learn a little bit of my story,” Wagner said.
“But what I’m all about is more representative of what’s reality on the street,” he added. “I didn’t get where I am today by not sitting down” with people.
State GOP Chairman Rob Gleason issued a statement Tuesday evening congratulating Wagner on his victory and commending Miller for running a great race.
“Scott Wagner won a hard-fought race, and I am sure he will serve as a strong advocate for the people of the 28th District in the Senate,” Gleason said. As for Miller, he said, “I look forward to watching him continue to stand up for the principles of limited government and fiscal responsibility in the state House.”
Wagner, who also owns a KBS Trucking in Thomasville, comes to the Senate planning to be a maverick by not accepting a taxpayer-funded pension or health insurance, limiting himself to two terms, limiting his contacts with special interests, and working to downsize state government.
He supports eliminating school property taxes and replacing that lost revenue by imposing sales tax on food and clothing. He supports job training for welfare recipients. He also supports legalizing medical marijuana.
Throughout his campaign, Wagner was critical of the Senate Republican leadership and state Republican Party for orchestrating the special election in such a way to hand the seat, vacated by Mike Waugh in January, to Miller, which GOP leaders denied.
Miller, 62, of Jacobus, called Wagner shortly after 9 p.m. Tuesday to congratulate him on becoming his next senator.
At a gathering at York County GOP headquarters, Miller said he respected the will of the voters and planned on returning to Harrisburg on Wednesday to carry out his duties as the 93rd state House district representative for the remainder of this year. He is not seeking re-election to his House seat that he has held for 16 years.
Meanwhile, Small, 53, of New Freedom, won kudos from state Democratic Party Chairman Jim Burns for running a spirited campaign that made her party proud. “The people of this commonwealth would have been well served with her leadership in Harrisburg,” Burns said.
Wagner said during a campaign stop last week that he plans to move right into campaign mode immediately after the special election to gear up for the May 20 primary when he will stand for election again against Miller and political newcomer Zachary Hearn, 37, of Windsor Twp., for the Republican nomination for the Senate seat. Small is unopposed in her bid for the Democratic nomination in the spring primary.