WASHINGTON - As Republicans grapple with the growing probability that Donald Trump will lead their party into this fall's election, some GOP leaders in Pennsylvania are warming up to the idea.

"There's all this negativity about Donald Trump. I think it's misplaced," said Republican State Chairman Rob Gleason. "I'm not a bit concerned."

Trump on Tuesday night pushed closer to completing a stunning run to the GOP nomination, winning seven states and building more steam as the race heads toward big, winner-take-all primaries May 15.

His closest rivals, Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, took three and one state, respectively.

Trump has galvanized voters angry about their economic fortunes and disgusted with traditional politics - but he has also drawn sharp rebukes from Republicans who fear he is thriving on hate and could scar the party for a generation.

When the Pennsylvania GOP hosted Trump for a December fund-raiser, many local officials found reasons to be elsewhere. Most Pennsylvania Republicans who have endorsed a candidate have chosen Rubio or Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

Some, though, are coming around to Trump's appeal, arguing that he could win over blue-collar voters who feel marginalized.

After his wins Tuesday night, Trump boasted that he was energizing Republicans. "I am a unifier," he said. "When we unify, there's nobody, nobody, that's going to beat us."

Gleason, of Johnstown, said he asks everyone he meets whom they plan to support. "I'm surprised how many say they're for Donald Trump."

Those ranks now include Rep. Tom Marino, a Williamsport Republican and the only member of Congress from Pennsylvania to endorse Trump. "He is able to attract new voters from across the spectrum and that is exactly what our party and country needs," Marino said in a statement Tuesday.

His backing came just days after Gov. Christie also endorsed Trump, even as others in the GOP urged party leaders to rally around an alternative.

One problem for Pennsylvania Republicans: With his victories in three states Tuesday, Cruz now is the candidate best positioned to challenge Trump, and many insiders believe the Texas senator would be even more damaging in the Keystone State.

In a state that features one of the country's key U.S. Senate contests and several potentially tight congressional campaigns, members of both parties are wondering how Trump could affect other races. And there is no consensus.

Some argue the New York billionaire could help Republicans with working-class white voters in the state's southwest and northeast corners.

"The fact of the matter is, we're not a very diverse state," said Larry Ceisler, a Democratic analyst based in Philadelphia. "I'm not saying he could win the state. Right now I don't think he would cause a massive blowout."

Chester County Republican Chairman Val DiGiorgio said Trump is unlikely to win the moderate, affluent Republicans who populate much of the Philadelphia suburbs.

"But he may more than make up for that with more blue-collar voters," said DiGiorgio, who has endorsed Rubio.

He still has worries: Like many on the right, he doesn't think Trump is a true conservative, and balks at his "inflammatory" language. But he said voters are sending a message party leaders should heed.

Other Republicans are urging resistance.

Former New Jersey Gov. Christie Whitman said on MSNBC Monday she would support Hillary Clinton, or write in another candidate, if Trump wins the nomination. And Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) said this week his party has gone "bats- crazy."

Pennsylvania Republicans have not gone as far in rebuking Trump, though some are concerned.

Christopher Nicholas, a Harrisburg-based Republican consultant, said Trump would "get slaughtered" in the Philadelphia suburbs, where statewide races are often decided.

"If you want four more years of Barack Obama via Hillary Clinton, then voting for Trump as the nominee kind of gets you one step closer to that," Nicholas said. He called it a "fallacy" that Trump would win over enough blue-collar votes to counter the damage: "We already get a lot of those votes."

Democrats already see an opening.

"If the national Republican brand becomes associated with the sort of vitriol and recklessness of Donald Trump, that will have a major impact," said Rep. Brendan Boyle, a Philadelphia Democrat.

A Franklin and Marshall College Poll released last week found Trump leading the GOP field in Pennsylvania, at 22 percent, though his lead was much slimmer - six percentage points - than in other states where he has won big.

Among all voters, 62 percent viewed him unfavorably, compared to 27 percent who saw him in a positive light.

If Trump is the nominee, "Republicans are going to have to make a big decision about what to do," said F&M pollster G. Terry Madonna. "Do they support Trump? Do they back away from him?"

After Tuesday, that dilemma is looking much more likely to land on Republicans' doorsteps.

jtamari@phillynews.com

@JonathanTamari

www.philly.com/capitolinq