Politicos are still working behind the scenes to find candidates for the 28th Senate District, giving the only person who has announced his candidacy a four-month and six-figure lead for the seat to be left vacant upon the retirement of Sen. Mike Waugh, R-Shrewsbury Township.
The first day to circulate and file nomination petitions for the May 20 primary is just six weeks away, but the field of candidates is still forming after Republican businessman and tea party activist Scott Wagner announced he has already raised nearly $268,000 for the seat.
Wagner, who announced his campaign last September, issued a New Year's Day release saying he's on his way to raising $500,000 for the campaign. The millionaire owner of York-based Penn Waste and KBS Inc. trucking company said he's also prepared to kick in as much of his personal money as needed to ensure he wins the race.
Relations between the tea party and the mainstream Republican party in York County have been strained, and Wagner has funded tea party primary challengers to traditional Republicans. GOP party chair Bob Wilson declined to comment on the York County Republican Committee's assessment of Wagner as a candidate.
He did offer that a typical state senate campaign costs about $70,000 total, which includes the primary and general elections, and he said Wagner has already spent "an excessive amount of money."
"I didn't realize the senate seat was up for sale, nor did I realize it was up for auction," Wilson said. "This race will be won on the ground, the result of an election."
Wagner responds: Wagner said the money he raised was a demonstration of the support from about 180 people, including "students, working-class people, retirees, business and community leaders."
"For them to say that I'm buying a seat ... I don't have the words to say," he said.
He didn't hold cocktail receptions or fundraisers; he "just called people and followed up with a letter," and people responded to his campaign, he said. Only $10,000 of the money came from his own pocket, he said.
Wagner said his financial resources mean that he wouldn't be beholden to special interests or other influences in Harrisburg, because he doesn't need to be. He would limit himself to two terms and would refuse the state-provided pension and benefits, he said.
"I am a huge threat to Harrisburg because I'm not a career politician," he said. "We need somebody to get there that doesn't get sucked into a system. This is not about me attacking people. This is about me attacking a bad system that a lot of people have gotten sucked into."
Wagner, 58, said he never served in the military and it's his patriotic duty to serve in the Senate.
Others could join: Wilson said he's meeting with an unnamed potential candidate next week, but no other Republicans have announced their intentions to run.
State Rep. Ron Miller, R-Jacobus and York County President Commissioner Steve Chronister have said they're exploring the possibility, but neither man has committed.
Miller said Friday he'll announce before Jan. 17, as he's still contemplating what's best for the House district he has served for eight terms, as well as the county as a whole.
Wagner's funding won't be a factor in Miller's decision, he said, and he believes he would have the resources to win the race if he decides to run.
"Nobody has a clue what it takes to beat any given person," Miller said. "You can't buy votes. ... You need to present yourself as the proper candidate to serve the people."
Chronister said Friday he's still mulling the decision, and he's hoping to hear from residents of the district who want him to run.
He would probably spend no more than $10,000, he said, just enough to buy a mailer and some signs. If that's not enough, he said, he doesn't deserve to win; his record as a county commissioner should stand for itself.
While the commissioner would run a low-budget campaign, he said he doesn't "second-guess" Wagner for his choice to spend more.
"He's never been in the political arena and he needs to get the message out," Chronister said. "He's a smart guy and good businessman."
People concerned: A Democratic candidate hasn't announced candidacy for the seat, said Bob Kefauver, Chairman of the Democratic Party of York County, but party leaders and volunteers are talking behind the scenes.
"There's a genuine concern, not just among Democrats but many Republicans I've spoken to, over Mr. Wagner being the (Republican) party nominee," Kefauver said. "His views are so far outside the mainstream that his abilities to adequately serve the people of York County are in question. Contrary to popular belief, York County is not nearly as conservative as the general perception."
Though outnumbered by Republicans in voter registration in the 28th District, the Democrats have a chance to woo moderate Republicans with Wagner in the race, he said.
-- Reach Christina Kauffman at firstname.lastname@example.org.