HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania’s Republican Party on Saturday endorsed candidates who are closely identified with President Donald Trump to run in contested primaries to challenge the state’s two leading Democrats, Gov. Tom Wolf and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey.
The endorsements of gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner and Senate candidate Lou Barletta came a month before the deadline to file paperwork to get on the May 15 primary election ballot. The endorsements at the Republican State Committee’s winter meeting were expected after both men performed well at regional caucus straw votes in recent weeks and come with the party’s financial support in the primary.
Barletta is a fourth-term congressman from Hazleton and known most for cracking down on immigrants in the country illegally. He has backed Trump’s agenda and co-chaired Trump’s 2016 campaign in Pennsylvania. Trump also has spoken glowingly of Barletta. His most prominent primary rivals are former energy executive Paul Addis from suburban Philadelphia and state Rep. Jim Christiana of Beaver County.
Wagner, a state senator from York County and founder of the $65 million waste hauler Penn Waste, is endorsed by former Trump White House strategist Steve Bannon. Wagner is rated by the American Conservative Union as among the Senate’s five most conservative senators.
House Speaker Mike Turzai, a leader of anti-tax and social conservatives who has helped drive austerity in state budgeting, announced suspension of his gubernatorial campaign. The lawyer and former county prosecutor has been in office since 2001, became majority leader in 2011 and assumed the speaker’s office in 2015.
“We’ve been on a mission, but we did start late,” Turzai said in an emotional speech to the gathering, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. “(Y)ou enter into competition and sometimes you don’t win. ... I came in second, and that’s all right.”
Wagner, who got into the race more than a year ago and is largely self-financing his campaign, beat former health care systems consultant Paul Mango in the first round of voting. Also in the race is lawyer Laura Ellsworth.
No GOP-endorsed candidate has lost Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial primary in 40 years. However, the party’s endorsed candidate lost the U.S. Senate primary in 2012.