HARRISBURG — President Donald Trump hasn’t endorsed a candidate in Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial election next year, but Scott Wagner might have something close to it: Steve Bannon’s stamp of approval.
Bannon, the divisive ex-Trump strategist, urged a conservative gathering at a St. Louis hotel on Sunday to support the Republican state senator from York County.
Conservatives could start “taking” the country back in Tuesday’s U.S. Senate GOP primary in Alabama, where Bannon and Trump campaigned for different candidates, and “when Scott Wagner runs in Pennsylvania,” Bannon told the gathering.
Wagner, a Trump supporter who runs the municipal waste-hauling company he founded, spoke right before Bannon at the gathering and criticized not only Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf but also his fellow Republican lawmakers.
Harrisburg, he said, is a “real swamp.”
Wagner told the crowd that his two-hour trip flying to St. Louis with Bannon left him “500 percent more emboldened.”
“Tomorrow in Pennsylvania the gloves are coming off and the message is, ‘The hardworking Pennsylvanians, you’re being shafted by the corruption in Harrisburg, OK?’” Wagner said. “Career politicians, Democrat and Republican. But I now see firsthand serving in the Senate. ... We now have a veto-proof majority, we went to 34. I watched Republican leaders giving our governor a free pass, and you know what? Enough is enough.”
What Wagner was talking about, Bannon told the crowd, was not about beating just Democrats but also the Republican establishment.
“The first thing we’ve got to get through is a corrupt and incompetent Republican establishment,” Bannon told the crowd to cheers.
Republicans in Congress have failed to support Trump’s “populist, nationalist, conservative” message and ideas, Bannon said.
About 400 people were at the rally hosted by Phyllis Schlafly Eagles, a spinoff of the conservative think tank Eagle Forum, which Schlafly founded and led until her death last year.
Former health care consultant Paul Mango, of suburban Pittsburgh, also is seeking the GOP nomination to challenge Wolf’s bid for a second term next year. Meanwhile, lawyer Laura Ellsworth, of suburban Pittsburgh, has said she is seriously considering running and is expected to announce a decision around the end of September. House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, has been silent about his plans to run.
Wagner said Bannon asked him a lot of questions on their flight together to St. Louis, which Wagner chartered from Baltimore. Primarily, he said, Bannon peppered him with questions about why he is running and about Pennsylvania, his campaign and his message.
“So, he said, ‘Pennsylvania taxpayers are getting the shaft by cronyism and special interest groups,’” Wagner said.