Intraparty tension surrounding a special election in York County for a state Senate seat could foreshadow a tense year for Senate Republican efforts to keep their majority. The GOP now holds a slim 27-23 lead in the Senate.
Political experts say that seat, vacated when long-time incumbent Mike Waugh left to become executive director of the Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg, will almost certainly stay Republican, but the question is which kind of Republican. One candidate, businessman Scott Wagner, does not fit the profile GOP leaders want, one expert said.
“He’s a [Mike] Folmer or [John H.] Eichelberger with money,” said the political analyst, who asked not to be identified. “If he gets in, he won’t have to follow the caucus line.”
Folmer knocked Senate Majority Leader David “Chip” Brightbill from his Lebanon County seat in 2006. That same year, Eichelberger ousted Senate President Pro Tempore Robert Jubelirer from his Blair County seat.
Wagner announced he will not participate in the March 18 special election but will instead run in the May primary.
“It’s not surprising that he dropped out of the special,” said Chris Nicholas, political director for the Pennsylvania Business Council. “Now he can run as an outsider.”
Wagner has called the special election unnecessary and a waste of taxpayer money.
Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley defended the decision to schedule the special election, saying York County needs representation during the important budget process in Harrisburg.
The election is the start of a tense year for Senate Republicans given that five Senate races will be open. Four of those are in politically volatile Southeastern Pennsylvania.
For their part, the Republicans are targeting two seats in the western part of the state, and with redistricting, one additional seat is almost sure to be in their grasp.
“I expect they will hold on,” said G. Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College. “But keeping that 27-23 margin will seem like a victory for them.”
• — J.L.K.