Scott Wagner, the Republican nominee for governor of Pennsylvania, on Thursday defended his recitation of a letter that Democrats condemned as racist.
Wagner, a former state senator running against Gov. Wolf, was defiant. "I've always said that if you want the perfect candidate who is politically correct, then you shouldn't vote for me," he said in a statement.
At issue was Wagner's telling of what he called "the raccoon story," which is popular among some supporters of President Trump.
The story was told in a letter published in March 2016 by an anonymous 80-year-old Trump supporter, who compared immigrants to raccoons and warned that the country was being "invaded" by "illegal aliens" and Muslim refugees. The writer said he was attempting to explain why "so many Americans have boarded the Trump Train."
The letter was published on the conspiracy website InfoWars, which is notorious for promoting the false ideas that the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut was a hoax and that the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks were an inside job.
It has since circulated among some Trump supporters, including the former deputy mayor of Mendham, N.J., who resigned after facing fierce public backlash for sharing the story.
News of Wagner's speech came as he has tried to broaden his appeal, making numerous trips to the Philadelphia area. On Tuesday, he pitched a plan to help "struggling cities" and declared that Wolf and other Democrats had taken urban areas for granted.
Speaking at a campaign event in Wilkes-Barre last week, Wagner didn't explicitly mention immigrants or refugees, saying he was going to "tone it down a little bit."
In the letter posted on InfoWars, the writer uses a metaphor about raccoons: "You've been on vacation for two weeks, you come home, and your basement is infested with raccoons. Hundreds of rabid, messy, mean raccoons have overtaken your basement. You want them gone immediately. …You call the city and four different exterminators, but nobody could handle the job."
The writer says Trump, though, could get the job done.
"You don't care if the guy smells," the story continues, "you don't care if the guy swears, you don't care how many times he's been married, you don't care if he was friends with liberals, you don't care if he has plumber's crack. … You simply want those raccoons gone!"
It goes on to say: "This country is weak, bankrupt, our enemies are making fun of us, we are being invaded by illegal aliens and bringing tens of thousands of Muslim refugees to America, while leaving Christians behind to be persecuted."
It bemoans that "we are becoming a nation of victims" and that "we don't even recognize the country we were born and raised in."
Wagner, who posted a video of his remarks on Facebook, omitted the language about immigrants, refugees, and Christians. However, he repeated almost verbatim the account of "raccoons" overtaking a basement, and a supposed inability to "recognize the country" anymore.
Before he began reading the story, Wagner said that he, like the president, had recognized a "swamp" that needed to be drained.
"You've been on vacation for weeks. You come home and your basement is infested with raccoons," Wagner told the audience in Wilkes-Barre, reading from notes and repeating the language about a city's failure to get rid of them.
"You simply want the raccoons gone. You want the problem fixed, he's the guy, he's the best, period. That's the raccoon guy," Wagner said.
Wagner added, "This country is weak, bankrupt, our enemies are making fun of us. We are being invaded." He didn't say who was invading.
"We are becoming a nation of victims," he continued, saying there are so many groups with "special rights" that "we don't even recognize the country we were born with and raised in."
"We just want it fixed, and Trump is the only guy who seems to understand what the people want," he said.
In his statement, Wagner said the raccoon tale was "an analogy that illustrates voters don't really care what types of flaws their leaders have, as long as they are getting things done for the people they serve."
"The raccoons do not represent any type of person — they represent the problems," he said. "And the voters want someone who can solve their problems. That is how I will approach my governorship."
Campaign spokesperson Andrew Romeo said Wagner had not been aware of the InfoWars article, but had read a different account in an email that had been sent to him.
Romeo also pointed to an opinion article Wagner wrote last year in which he said he abhorred racism and discrimination.
Multiple public polls have shown Wolf leading by double digits.