Does Pa. going red foretell trouble for Gov. Wolf?

Pennsylvania Senator Scott Wagner speaks during the Northeast Republican Leadership Conference in the Sheraton Hotel in Philadelphia, Pa. on Saturday, June 20, 2015

WELL, THAT didn't take long.

Just days after Donald Trump ran up impressive margins in rural Pennsylvania to win a state few thought he would, here comes a mini-Trump claiming he can do the same.

"A window of opportunity has opened up big-time." So says Scott Wagner in an interview last week.

That's GOP bad-boy Scott Wagner, a wealthy first-term state senator who once threatened to use a baseball bat to drive home conservative policies.

And back in July, at the Republican convention in Cleveland, Wagner told me, "I think Donald Trump is similar to me in many ways."

And, yeah, it should be Wagner's similar to Trump, but you get the idea.

Now, following talk for some time about challenging Democrat Gov. Wolf, after seeing Trump's vote totals across the state, Wagner's in.

He says he'll host a New York reception during the annual Pennsylvania Society weekend next month, formally announce his candidacy for governor in January and write his campaign "a seven-figure check."

So here we go. Believe it not, like or not, Campaign 2018's underway. Sorry.

It starts with caveats. Lots can happen twixt now and then. Is there another state budget impasse? Are there other GOP or rich Trump-like contenders? What's the mood among voters in Year Two of a Trump term?

Wagner predicts a taste for change isn't going away: "I have the pulse. I know the mood."

He's a big Trump fan who personally/financially invested in Trump's campaign, a campaign he says, stylistically, he can replicate.

But Trump carried 56 of 67 counties, winning close to half of those with 70 percent of the vote or more, three - Bedford, Fulton, Potter - with 80 percent or more. And even in some Democratic counties - Cambria, Carbon, Elk, Fayette, Greene, Westmoreland - he won 64 percent to 70 percent of the vote.

And, I know, Democrats in those counties really aren't Democrats anymore. But Democrats still outnumber Republicans statewide by more than 915,000.

"Why would a life-long Democrat vote for me?" asks Wagner. "Ask the life-long Democrat how they feel about property taxes, the pension crisis and dysfunction in Harrisburg."

Wagner's a multi-millionaire who owns trucking, trash and recycling businesses and who, like Wolf, is from York County (where Trump got 63 percent of the vote).

Unlike Trump, Wagner's neither a billionaire nor a household name. Arguably, Trump's success is wholly unique to Trump. And Wolf, unlike Hillary Clinton, isn't disliked or mistrusted by a majority of voters.

Still, Wagner's a force. He made history winning a Senate seat with a 2014 write-in vote. He was instrumental in pushing then-GOP Senate Leader Dominic Pileggi aside for not being conservative enough.

This year, as chairman of the Senate Republican Campaign Committee (a committee that had opposed his election), Wagner traveled the state and grew the GOP majority to a veto-proof 34 while knocking off incumbent Democrats in Harrisburg and Erie.

He says between Trump's campaign and legislative races, he gave more than $1 million of his own money.

He's outspoken and plain-spoken. He calls himself "a garbage man who never graduated college." He wants smaller government, more accountability for spending and less influence from public-sector unions.

We know what Pennsylvania voters wanted this cycle. We'll see what they want in the next.

baerj@phillynews.com

Blog: ph.ly/BaerGrowls

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