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Pa. GOP hopes Trump momentum lasts till midterm elections

The Pennsylvania Republican Party invited an outlier as keynote speaker 11 months ago for the kind of event that rankles voters exasperated with establishment politics.

The Pennsylvania Republican Party invited an outlier as keynote speaker 11 months ago for the kind of event that rankles voters exasperated with establishment politics.

Donald Trump's celebrity sold tickets for the fund-raiser, the kickoff luncheon for the annual Pennsylvania Society political gathering in New York.

Protesters infiltrated the private event and repeatedly interrupted his speech. It became all the buzz at every glitzy event the rest of the weekend.

The state's political class returns in a month to New York for another Pennsylvania Society. The 2018 election for governor will be the hot topic.

Trump will again be front and center in that talk. But will the energy he brought to last week's election persist in Pennsylvania two years from now?

Consider what Rob Gleason, chairman of the state Republican Party, said about Trump last week. "He wasn't really the Republican candidate," Gleason said. "He was the Trump candidate."

Still, voters in Pennsylvania will have a candidate for governor who may remind them of Trump.

State Sen. Scott Wagner, a wealthy, antiestablishment Republican from York who stunned the state's political class with a 2014 write-in victory, is known for - shall we say - a direct approach.

Wagner, who started and still runs trucking and waste-hauling businesses, on Friday told me he will declare his candidacy for governor in January.

"At my company alone, I had over two dozen employees who had never voted before, who weren't registered to vote," he said.

They became Trump supporters, like Wagner.

"Our government is not working," Wagner said. "He has tapped into an undercurrent in this country. People are tired of being taken for granted."

Gov. Wolf, also a wealthy candidate who ran a family business in York before taking office, faces a tough two years as he prepares to seek a second term.

Republicans in January will have a veto-proof 34-16 majority in the state Senate and a 122-81 majority in the state House.

Those are long odds for a Democrat like Wolf, who on Friday pitched himself in an email to supporters as looking for bipartisan solutions for people who "do not believe the economy is working for them."

The state Democratic Party, hearing of Wagner's impending candidacy, denounced him Friday as "the personification of everything wrong with Harrisburg" on school funding and fair taxes. That sort of early tough talk shows a brawl is coming soon.

There is one bright side in all this for Wolf.

The 2018 race for governor will be a midterm election - the first chance Pennsylvania voters will have for a referendum on Trump's presidency, even though he will not be on that year's ballot.

Midterm elections are historically a rough time for the party that holds the White House. So a President Trump may not be such a boon for Wagner's campaign. Wagner shrugs that off.

"People are fed up," Wagner said. "We're going to be replacing our governor in 2018."

David Urban, a senior adviser in Pennsylvania for the Trump campaign, predicted last week his party could do well in 2018 with "someone who has that appeal to working-class voters and a message that resonates."

Urban also said very nice things about Wagner's potential to appeal to Trump supporters.

"If you can find someone who can strike that same voter group, they're going to strike gold," he said. "It's now the party of Donald Trump. It's not the party of the last 150 years. But the people are fired up and ready to go."