Businessman Scott Wagner's apparent win in the 28th Senate District isn't a signal of major political shifts or tea party takeover in York County, analysts said, and the results of Tuesday's special election could be specific to the dynamics of just that race.
Last year's federal government shutdown left the local branch of the tea party, the York 912 Patriots, vowing to take over the seats of moderate Republicans. But while first-term U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-York County, has previous ties to the group, numerous tea party candidates have failed to defeat Republican incumbents in primary races over the past several years.
Wagner has supported those tea party candidates; he identifies as an "independent conservative" and has clearly separated himself from the local GOP establishment.
And that's why York 912 Patriots spokeswoman Beth Roberts said Wagner's win is a boost to the tea party, a "victory for the people, not the party."
"I think the GOP, especially the York County GOP, has had a monopoly on our representation to which the rest of us were not privy for a long time," she said. "I was very happy that Scott Wagner found the chink in their armor."
Roberts said the election results discredit the mainstream-Republican argument that tea party candidates skew elections in favor of Democrats.
"This is a lie," she said. "The districts have been gerrymandered to make sure that doesn't happen."
Still fighting: Roberts said she's hoping Wagner's win is a sign that voters are starting to "wake up" and support candidates who want to return the Republican Party to its core principles, including smaller government and fiscal responsibility.
Voters were motivated to defeat Wagner's opponent and party favorite Ron Miller because he and other Republican incumbents supported a pension increase that's contributing to a state pension crisis, Roberts said. They're also angered by incumbents' support of a transportation bill that indirectly foisted increased gas costs and motor vehicle fees onto their constituents, she said.
But she said there's an uphill fight; Wagner is an anomaly because he had the political outsider message craved by voters and the money and manpower necessary to win against the "party machine."
Getting along: Though the local Republican party worked against Wagner, chairman Bob Wilson released a statement Wednesday congratulating Wagner and urging all Republicans to work together.
"My fight is against the liberal (Democratic) party," Wilson said by phone after the statement was released. "It's not within the confines of my own party."
He said resources are being wasted, and all Republicans need to focus their energy "for where the fight needs to take place, and that's with the other side."
But Roberts said she doesn't see the local tea party as a whole "getting over" what members believe was an orchestrated special election called just to give Miller an advantage. Speaking just for herself, she said she doesn't have enough trust in the party to work with the Republican establishment.
"I think if Bob Wilson wanted to do any favors for the Republican Party and he really wanted to bridge the divide, he should resign," she said.
Roberts is one of at least three tea party members who have launched primary campaigns against incumbent House members in York County this year.
Drift to the right: Asked whether Wagner's win will cause incumbents to drift to the right, Wilson said conservative and moderate trends come and go.
"There will always be those waves and there will always be people who try to ride the coattails of whatever that wave is," he said.
But he said moving too far to the right will alienate voters and drive the Republican Party into minority status.
Analysts said one special election can't be used as a measure of any sort of trend, and voters might just have been angry about the specific situation that played out in the 28th Senate District.
"It's very problematic to ever use special elections as a barometer of a bigger political trend," said Christopher Borick, a non-partisan analyst, professor of political science and director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion. "Special elections are the only game in town when they happen."
Tuesday's election does give some sense that the more conservative end of the ideological spectrum was energized, he said, "but we can't generalize an effect in the primary or general elections."
Political analyst G. Terry Madonna said there's an unprecedented angst, hostility and distrust of political parties right now, as well as an obvious division in the Republican Party.
But Wagner's win isn't necessarily a portent of things to come.
"It's a signal that there's some dissatisfaction," he said. "But I don't know what to make of one election. These divisions are most evident in rural conservative Pennsylvania counties. I don't think this means the Republican Party in York is insignificant ... but I don't know what it means moving forward."
— Reach Christina Kauffman at firstname.lastname@example.org.