- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 19, 2014

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Republicans in the Pennsylvania state Senate were digesting the news Wednesday that they will be joined by a conservative maverick who was heavily critical of them in an expensive and sharp-elbowed special election in which he soundly thumped the GOP’s nominee.

Scott Wagner, an anti-establishment conservative activist and president of waste hauler Penn Waste Inc., won the election in York County as a write-in after weeks of hard-hitting, negative ads between his campaign and the Senate Republican Campaign Committee. It likely cost more than $700,000, by one estimate.

Among the Senate Republican Campaign Committee’s donors were top Republican senators and Gov. Tom Corbett.

It was the first time in memory - if not ever - that a state Senate seat was won by a write-in candidate. And it was won resoundingly: With 22,219 ballots cast, nearly 48 percent were write-ins, while the rest were essentially split by the Republican Party nominee, eight-term state Rep. Ron Miller, and Democratic Party nominee Linda Small.

Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, suggested Wednesday that the negative campaign tactics should not leave hard feelings between Senate Republicans and Wagner.

“It was a spirited campaign and it wasn’t the first and it won’t be the last,” Pileggi said. “But the election is over and it’s time to govern.”

Meanwhile, top party figures rushed to congratulate Wagner. Still, Wagner’s criticism might not be completely forgotten.

Republican senators acknowledged that some among them will be unhappy with sharing closed-door caucus meetings with Wagner, who has contributed heavily to challengers to sitting Republican lawmakers who he did not view as conservative enough. Meanwhile, Wagner’s campaign consultant, Harrisburg-based Ryan Shafik, pointed out that the Senate Republican Campaign Committee launched personal attacks on Wagner.

“There needs to be some fence-mending,” Shafik said.

Once in Harrisburg, Wagner also plans to seek an end to the GOP’s efforts to knock off Republican primary candidates who challenge incumbents or party nominees.

Wagner’s victory “sent a message that voters are tired of backroom deals in Harrisburg and party elites trying to pick candidates for Republican voters,” Shafik said.

Franklin County Sen. Rich Alloway, who helps run the Senate Republican Campaign Committee, stressed that he and Wagner agree on the vast majority of issues, and that he hopes Wagner sees the “good work” that Senate Republicans are doing.

But Alloway insisted that Wagner is not blameless and fired plenty of shots, such as saying during the campaign that he was heading to Harrisburg with his pickup truck full of “rat traps.”

“All I heard was I’m a crook and I’m no good,” Alloway said.

In one Senate Republican Campaign Committee ad, a narrator says, “With millionaire trash man Scott Wagner, something doesn’t smell right.” Wagner responded in an ad that singled out Pileggi as a “Philly politician” and asked whether York County voters wanted him to pick their state senator.

Wagner’s victory still must be certified by York County and the state elections bureau before he can be sworn in, perhaps in late March.

He will finish the term of retired Sen. Mike Waugh, who resigned in January to run the state Farm Show Complex and Expo Center.

The term ends Nov. 30, and a May 20 primary and Nov. 4 general election will decide who will serve the next four-year term that begins in January.

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