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Scott Wagner wins Republican nod in the 2018 Pennsylvania governor’s race

He will face Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf in the general election.

Republican Scott Wagner will face Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf in the 2018 Pennsylvania governor’s race.
Keith Srakocic/AP
Dylan Scott covers health care for Vox. He has reported on health policy for more than 10 years, writing for Governing magazine, Talking Points Memo and STAT before joining Vox in 2017.

Republican state Sen. Scott Wagner, the party establishment’s pick, prevailed in the Pennsylvania GOP governor primary election on Tuesday, and he will now face Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf in one of 2018’s most important gubernatorial races.

Wagner bested attorney Laura Ellsworth and former paratrooper Paul Mango in the Republican primary. He had earned the support of most top Republicans in the state during the campaign.

The Pennsylvania governor’s race will be closely watched after Donald Trump’s unexpected victory in the Keystone State in 2016. Wolf was first elected in 2014, an otherwise down year for Democrats, and notably expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, covering up to 700,000 of the state’s poorest residents.

Wagner has said he supports Medicaid work requirements, which would pare back the expansion, setting up the most obvious stakes of the 2018 campaign. But Wolf’s reelection bid, as well as that of Democratic Sen. Bob Casey, will also be a test of Democrats’ standing in Pennsylvania after 2016. Wolf is the slight favorite, but nothing can be taken for granted here after Trump’s shocking win.

Who is Scott Wagner?

Wagner has represented an area just south of Harrisburg in the Pennsylvania Senate since 2014. He has been a consistently conservative vote, earning a 91 percent lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union after the 2016 session. He notably voted to roll back oil and gas drilling regulations, to crack down on so-called sanctuary cities, and to prevent local governments from enacting more strident gun control measures.

The state senator earned a broad base of support in his primary campaign, from alt-right icon and former Trump adviser Steve Bannon to Maryland’s more moderate GOP governor, Larry Hogan. He emulated Trump throughout the campaign, even deploying a “Drain the Swamp” pledge, except for Harrisburg instead of Washington.

Wagner has importantly said that Pennsylvania’s Medicaid expansion, which covered about 700,000 of the state’s low-income residents, should include a work requirement, which would likely trim the program’s rolls.

The 2018 Pennsylvania governor’s race, briefly explained

Wolf seems to be in good shape. Morning Consult places his approval rating at 45 percent, with 39 percent disapproval. Cook Political says the race leans toward Wolf; the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics rates it as a Likely Democratic win. A March poll showed Wolf with a 17-point advantage against Wagner, though 35 percent of voters were undecided.

Wagner’s explicit embrace of Trump could be a polarizing move in Pennsylvania. The president’s support has fallen off here: 42 percent approval, 53 percent disapproval, per Gallup.

All those factors, combined with the prevailing anti-Trump national environment, should give Wolf an advantage in November. But the race will nevertheless be watched closely, after Pennsylvania surprised everybody in 2016.

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