If there was an establishment-GOP plot to hand-pick the next state senator in the 28th District, it backfired.

Big time.

In fact, Scott Wagner – the tea party-backed owner of Penn Waste and frequent thorn in mainstream Republicans' sides – made Pennsylvania history Tuesday by apparently becoming the first write-in candidate elected to the state Senate.

We hedge by saying "apparently," since the special election tally isn't yet official. But let's be real – the preliminary results indicate a stunning, decisive victory.

Write-in votes accounted for 47.7 percent of the total compared to Republican state Rep. Ron Miller's 26.6 percent.

Democrat Linda Small received 25.7 percent, giving her about as much chance as Miller to successfully contest the results.

That would be: Not much.

Wagner, a Republican who frequently criticized former GOP Congressman Todd Platts and aided Platts' challenger in last year's judicial race, first suggested what he called "the back-room deal."

He, Miller and Small had already announced plans to run in the May primary to succeed Republican state Sen. Mike Waugh after he announced he wouldn't seek re-election.

Wagner was suspicious when Waugh instead resigned in January, triggering a special election – a special election for which local party officials got to choose their nominees.


Advertisement

The timing – of Waugh's resignation and the election itself, just two months before the primary – was all part of a plot to appoint GOP mainstay Miller to the deeply conservative district and give him an incumbent's edge in the primary, Wagner alleged.

Some echoed the allegation, but local GOP chairman Bob Wilson and other party officials denied it.

If it was a plot, it went terribly wrong for them.

For one, Yorkers are generally frugal. Even if some didn't subscribe to Wagner's theory, they didn't like the idea of spending hundreds of thousands for a special election when it could have been held during the primary at no extra cost.

Also, the multiple races in the May primary likely would have meant more people casting votes in the special election, which could have benefited Miller.

After all, it takes a highly motivated voter to turn out on a cold, March day to vote in a single contest. And whatever one thinks of the tea party, its supporters are nothing if not highly motivated.

Finally, politicians just don't seem to understand how much people dislike negative campaigns — and this one was particularly ugly.

Yes, both Miller and Wagner saturated the airwaves. But where Wagner generally targeted what he saw as "the plot," Miller supporters went for the opponent's jugular, casting him as the "millionaire trash man" who sues little old ladies.

Our guess is if this was a GOP scheme, it's probably already been scratched from the schemebook.

In fact, GOP officials like Wilson already are welcoming the "trash man" to their ranks — even if they're holding their noses while they do so.