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After big losses, a more nuanced approach to Trump from Pa. GOP candidate for governor Scott Wagner

So how, if you're a Republican running for office on the heels of Democratic wins, do you handle the Donald Trump factor?

State Sen. Scott Wagner (R.,York),  seeking the Republican nomination for Pa. governor, at a forum last month. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
State Sen. Scott Wagner (R.,York), seeking the Republican nomination for Pa. governor, at a forum last month. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)Read moreMatt Rourke

HARRISBURG — Just one week into State Sen. Scott Wagner's campaign for governor, a fellow senator introduced him at a rally as "Donald Trump light."

For months, he seemed to embrace comparisons to the president.

Yet on Thursday, the York County Republican took a more nuanced, winding approach that distanced himself ever so slightly from Trump.

Asked about Democratic gains earlier in the week, attributed to a voter backlash against Trump, Wagner was quick to point out differences between them.

While they're both businessmen, Wagner said, he has worked in state government for 3½ years. Trump came in cold to Washington. Trump grew up in the "New York real estate world. I grew up on a farm in York, Pa.," Wagner said.

"Donald Trump has his style. I have my style," he said. "I think people are going to see maybe a difference in the styles."

Still, Wagner said he would be "proud and honored" if Trump traveled to Pennsylvania to support him if he wins the Republican nomination for governor.

"Donald Trump wants to make America great again, and I want to make Pennsylvania greater again," Wagner said, borrowing a line from Trump's campaign.

Republicans everywhere will have to make careful calculations about the president, analysts said.

"Everybody who runs statewide is going to have to think about how they're going to handle that," said political scientist and pollster G. Terry Madonna. "The jury is out as to how it ultimately plays out."

Wagner was speaking at his campaign office in Harrisburg, where he formally announced plans to run alongside lieutenant governor candidate Jeff Bartos, a real estate executive from Lower Merion who has never run for office.

Bartos announced this week that he was dropping out of the GOP U.S. Senate race to run alongside Wagner, a move that is unusual this early in the gubernatorial race. Voters will select candidates for the two posts separately during the primary next year.

Paul Addis, who is running for the party's nomination to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (the same race Bartos quit), issued a statement Thursday saying Republican losses in Pennsylvania this week "should be a wake-up call for all Republicans."

"It's clear [voters] are also demanding a great deal more from politicians and campaigns than loyalty to President Trump," Addis said.

Meanwhile, there were signs that House Speaker Mike Turzai might run for governor after all. He hasn't said, but a message posted to a Turzai Twitter account this week hinted of a "major announcement" and a video on his campaign website had the feel of a political ad.

The two-minute video features Turzai speaking at the Omni William Penn Hotel in Pittsburgh late last month. In the video, Turzai says House Republicans have been the "last and strongest line of defense for people who earn, who hire, who produce, who make and build things in Pennsylvania."

On the Democratic side, there could be a new candidate for lieutenant governor. State Rep. Madeleine Dean of Montgomery County announced that she is exploring a potential run and hopes to make a decision before Dec. 1. Dean, a representative since 2012, serves on multiple committees and sits on the Pennsylvania Commission for Women.

Staff writers Jonathan Tamari and Angela Couloumbis contributed to this article.