Election Preview: Pennsylvania Gubernatorial Primary

Primary Election: May 15th, 2018
General Election: November 6th, 2018

Wolf.png
Governor Tom Wolf (D)

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf (D), a former York County business executive, will seek a second term during the 2018 gubernatorial election. Wolf defeated Republican Governor Tom Corbett by nearly 10 points in 2014, becoming the first incumbent governor denied a second term after the state constitution was amended in 1968 to allow two consecutive terms

Two years later, Democrats swept all state row offices, including the Attorney General, Auditor General and State Treasurer in the 2016 general election. However, Republicans have maintained majorities in the State House and Senate, creating a partisan rift between the General Assembly and the Governor’s Office.

Prior to becoming governor, Wolf received advanced degrees from the University of London and The Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He went on to run the Wolf Organization, a family-owned building materials company where he started as a forklift operator before taking an executive role. He also served as the State Secretary of Revenue under Governor Ed Rendell in 2007. During the 2014 election, he campaigned as a moderate, but has pressed for higher income and sales taxes since taking office. He’s pushed for a natural gas severance tax, which received a stiff rebuttal from Republican lawmakers. His proposal helped lead to a budget impasse in July 2017. The Senate approved the tax in a bipartisan vote, but Republican House leaders refused to bring the proposal to the floor. The budget showdown ended after lawmakers decided to borrow $1.5 billion and expand gambling in hopes of creating $240 million in revenue.

In early February, Wolf proposed another natural gas severance tax that would bring an additional $250 million over the next year. Pennsylvania is the second-largest natural gas producing state in the country, making it a prime target for Wolf. He hopes to use the revenue for education, work force training and opioid treatment programs. While Republicans have called the plan dead on arrival in the legislature, it’s Wolf’s fourth attempt at taxing natural gas.

According to a February poll from Morning Consult, Wolf has a 44-percent approval rating and a 38-percent disapproval rating. He has a double-digit point advantage in a head-to-head matchup will all three GOP gubernatorial challengers, according to a March poll from Franklin and Marshall College. He’s raised more than $14.7 million, including $5 million in the first four months of 2018.

In the Republican primary, Senator Scott Wagner, Paul Mango and Laura Ellsworth are seeking the party’s nomination. Republican House Speaker Mike Turzai appeared in the first gubernatorial debate, but dropped out in February. The Republican Party Committee of Pennsylvania voted to endorse Wagner in February over Mango (Ellsworth opted not to participate in the process).

Wagner
State Sen. Scott Wagner (R)

Like Wolf, Wagner is a wealthy businessman from York County. He started a waste disposal company with no college degree and is now worth an estimated $20 million. While he didn’t become a lawmaker until 2014, he’s spent more than $3.2 million on helping Republican candidates get elected in Pennsylvania from 2007 to 2016. Wagner won a state senate seat by defeating both Republican and the Democrat in a write-in campaign. Records show he’s the only person to accomplish this feat in state history. As State Senator, Wagner has pushed for fiscally-conservative legislation, while building a cadre of like-minded lawmakers to usurp leadership in the state legislature. After leading an effort to oust the Senate Majority leader, he’s helped conservatives win elections in Erie and Southwestern Pennsylvania.

Wagner received an endorsement from former White House advisor Steve Bannon in September 2017. Along with the state party endorsement, 24 Republican Party county chairman have followed suit. With $6.1 million in the bank, Wagner currently has the most funding out of the GOP candidates, but remains well short of Wolf’s campaign haul. Mango’s team has begun running advertisements on television attacking Wagner for being a slum lord, violating environmental laws and skipping out on child support payments. The advertisement features him as a 3-D cartoon counting money and disposing toxic waste. The Mango campaign has also begun chastising him for 2006 protection from abuse order filed by his eldest daughter, Katharine. However, his daughter has strongly denied any violence and appeared in advertisement defending her father.

“Paul Mango is a disgrace. …Dragging me into his dirty campaign is beyond the bounds of decency,” she said.

In April, Val DiGiorgio, chairman of the Pennsylvania Republican Party, appeared alongside Wagner in a press conference to announce results from an internal poll of likely Republican voters in Pennsylvania. According to DiGiorgio, more than half of Keystone GOP voters prefer Wagner, while a quarter chose Mango and nine percent support Ellsworth. The telephone poll, which was conducted by Virginia-based McLaughlin & Associates, contacted 500 likely GOP voters. The margin of error was 4.5 percent.

Mango
Paul Mango

Mango, a Pittsburgh healthcare executive and West Point graduate, remains defiant in the face the opposition. He’s bought more air time for the advertisement and says it’s a response to Wagner’s ads calling him “phony,” and a leading advocate for Obamacare.

As a healthcare consultant with a Harvard MBA, Mango pushes a socially-conservative agenda that opposes abortion, while supporting efforts to eliminate property tax and create school choice. While Wagner has said he will propose right-to-work legislation, Mango has indicated he would crack down on unions, but stopped short of calling for Pennsylvania to become right-to-work. Mango also attacked Obamacare as a complete disaster on the campaign trail, but he made favorable comments about the plan in 2009.

Mango has received endorsements from former Republican Senator Rick Santorum, as well 20 county commissioners from 16 counties in the state. Mango entered 2018 with $5.5 million, most of which came from his own fortune. He currently has $2.8 million in funds remaining.

As Mango and Wagner attack each other with bitter advertisements, Pittsburgh Attorney Laura Ellsworth has emerged as a dark horse moderate in the GOP primary. She’s the only Republican candidate to publicly admit she did not support President Trump in the 2016 election (she decided to write-in Ohio Governor John Kasich instead). Ellsworth spent 30 years at the Jones Day law firm in Pittsburgh and has served as the head of the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce. She has positioned herself as a candidate who can get things done, while citing her civic and business engagement to help turn Pittsburgh from a rustbelt town, into a tech haven. Ellsworth has also served in important leadership roles with the United Way and the Allegheny Conference on Community Development.

While her views on certain social issues fall in-line with mainstream conservatism, including a staunch views on abortion and right-to-work, Ellsworth hasn’t ruled out a severance tax on natural gas drilling, but says it must “make sense.” She doesn’t want to eliminate school property taxes, while both of her opponents support the overhaul. Ellsworth has also proposed increasing the number of state police officers trained in narcotics to help combat the opioid epidemic. Ellsworth has roughly $434,000 in campaign funds, and has not purchased any television advertisements, making her bid for the nomination challenging.

According to the Franklin and Marshall poll from March, Wolf led Wagner by 38 to 21 percent; Mango 49 to 22 percent; and Ellsworth 51 to 22 percent. The poll surveyed 423 voters in late March with a 7-percent margin of error.

The Cook Political Report and Inside Elections have categorized the race as ‘Lean Democratic.’

 

 

 

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