THE HORSE RACE

How money, ge­og­ra­phy, the mood of the elec­torate, the Repub­li­can Party and Don­ald Trump could de­cide the gu­ber­na­to­rial pri­mary this year

The Citizens' Voice - - Capitol Watch - BY BRAD BUMSTED AND SAM JANESCH THE CAU­CUS

Penn­syl­va­nia’s four-way Repub­li­can gu­ber­na­to­rial pri­mary is seen by most an­a­lysts as a con­test be­tween House Speaker Mike Turzai and Sen. Scott Wag­ner, with nei­ther pulling ahead as a clear front-run­ner.

Sev­eral po­lit­i­cal ex­perts, how­ever, see Wag­ner with a slight edge be­cause he’s been run­ning for more than a year.

“I’d say it’s be­tween Turzai and Wag­ner,” said Dick Ste­wart of New Cum­ber­land, co-chair­man of the Cen­tral Penn­syl­va­nia Repub­li­can Com­mit­tee of the state GOP. “Wag­ner is very strong. He’s really been out work­ing this.”

There are sev­eral key unan­swered ques­tions that may shape the race, though. They are:

Will the Repub­li­can State Com­mit­tee en­dorse a can­di­date, a move some po­lit­i­cal ex­perts doubt?

What will the na­tional mood be among vot­ers lead­ing up to the May pri­mary and through Novem­ber, when the pri­mary win­ner will face Demo­cratic Gov. Tom Wolf ?

Who will be able to raise enough cam­paign money to get out their mes­sage?

Will gen­der play a role? Pitts­burgh at­tor­ney Laura Ellsworth is the only woman in the race.

How big a fac­tor will ge­og­ra­phy play? Three of the four can­di­dates are from Al­legheny County: Turzai, Ellsworth and Paul Mango, a health care con­sul­tant and re­tired Army of­fi­cer. Will they split the Pitts­burgh-area vote to Wag­ner’s ben­e­fit?

“It is still open for any one of the four to emerge,” said Tom Baldino, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at Wilkes Univer­sity in Wilkes-Barre. He also sees Wag­ner and Turzai as bet­ter known.

All of th­ese fac­tors, com­bined with the can­di­dates’ stand on is­sues, are part of the mix that will de­ter­mine the pri­mary win­ner. Gen­er­ally speak­ing, Mango and Turzai are viewed as the most so­cially and fis­cally con­ser­va­tive.

Wag­ner is a pop­ulist — he’s con­ser­va­tive but not an ide­o­logue. He sup­ports gay rights and an in­crease in min­i­mum wage, for ex­am­ple.

Less is known about Ellsworth, who has spent her life in the pri­vate sec­tor.

Tim­ing

Turzai, 58, who had been on the side­lines most of 2017, was the last can­di­date to en­ter the race; he jumped in in mid-Novem­ber.

The other two Al­legheny County can­di­dates are lesser-known: Mango, 58, is a West Point and Har­vard grad­u­ate who spent years with con­sult­ing firm McK­in­sey & Co.; and Ellsworth, 59, is a prom­i­nent lawyer with the Jones Day law firm.

Turzai’s late en­try could hurt him in mak­ing head­way, said Joe DiSarro, chair­man of the po­lit­i­cal sci­ence de­part­ment at Wash­ing­ton & Jef­fer­son Col­lege.

Mango, who is wealthy, told DiSarro he is “will­ing to spend mil­lions” of his own money on the race. If Mango does so it could be­come a two-way race be­tween Mango and Wag­ner, DiSarro said.

The out­come “may de­pend which way the po­lit­i­cal winds are blow­ing,” said Kyle Kopko, a pre-law and po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at El­iz­a­beth­town Col­lege.

Wag­ner, 62, of York County, is of­ten com­pared to Trump, whose ap­proval rat­ings are low and who ush­ered in a tax plan that may or may not be per­ceived to be ben­e­fi­cial by the typ­i­cal voter, Kopko said.

“Since (Wag­ner) ties him­self to Trump he’s at the mercy of that,” said Baldino. It could cut ei­ther way.

Penn­syl­va­nia is still a state where Trump was able to gal­va­nize his base in 2016, said Stephen Med­vic, a gov­ern­ment pro­fes­sor at Franklin & Mar­shall Col­lege.

No easy mark

The Repub­li­cans are bat­tling to choose a can­di­date to un­seat Wolf, 69, a York busi­ness­man who made his­tory by de­feat­ing in­cum­bent GOP Gov. Tom Cor­bett in 2014. Un­til then, ev­ery gover­nor seek­ing a sec­ond term had been re­turned to of­fice since Demo­cratic Gov. Mil­ton Shapp won re-elec­tion in 1974.

Penn­syl­va­nia vot­ers changed the Con­sti­tu­tion in 1969 to al­low gov­er­nors to serve two four-year terms in­stead of just one.

Wolf ’s prospects for re-elec­tion have im­proved, an­a­lysts say.

“He is beat­able, but I don’t be­lieve he’s an easy mark in a year Repub­li­cans are fac­ing a stiff head wind,” said Christo­pher Borick, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor and poll­ster at Muh­len­berg Col­lege in Al­len­town.

Mid-term con­gres­sional elec­tions gen­er­ally fa­vor the party out of power — the Democrats this Novem­ber. And the Repub­li­cans won’t likely be helped by Trump’s er­ratic be­hav­ior.

The ouster of an in­cum­bent gover­nor typ­i­cally fol­lows a de­mand for change by vot­ers — an im­prove­ment in the econ­omy, an end to scan­dal, a re­ver­sal of steep spend­ing cuts or huge tax in­creases.

Vot­ers blamed Cor­bett for cut­ting $1 bil­lion from ed­u­ca­tion as the state faced a mas­sive deficit. He be­lat­edly de­fended him­self by stat­ing he didn’t im­pose cuts but rather did not re­place about $1 bil­lion in fed­eral money that was go­ing away.

In­sid­ers and out­siders

The four GOP can­di­dates all ap­pear to want to run as “out­sider” can­di­dates, said G. Terry Madonna, po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at Franklin & Mar­shall Col­lege in Lan­caster. But their claim to that ti­tle will de­pend on “how much of an out­sider they are,” Madonna said.

He said if vot­ers want “a real out­sider,” they might turn to Mango or Ellsworth, who have never held elected of­fice.

Turzai, on the other hand, has been around for decades and Wag­ner has deep con­nec­tions to the Repub­li­can Party.

Med­vic said Turzai is the “nat­u­ral in­sider can­di­date” and Wag­ner, while he is a sit­ting leg­is­la­tor, be­came the Trump-like “out­sider grass-roots can­di­date” with the en­dorse­ment of Steve Ban­non, a key Trump cam­paign ad­vi­sor. Ban­non is on the outs with Trump for crit­i­cal state­ments Ban­non ap­par­ently made in a new book, “Fire and Fury” by Michael Wolff.

Wag­ner “fits the Trumpian model — brash and in your face,” said Borick.

Turzai, of sub­ur­ban Pitts­burgh, will be por­trayed as the es­tab­lish­ment can­di­date, an­a­lysts said.

“It’s go­ing to come down to which wing is more pow­er­ful right now, which fac­tion here in the state is more pow­er­ful, and I don’t know the an­swer to that,” Med­vic said.

Wag­ner likely has an edge at this point, Madonna said, be­cause he has spent more time cam­paign­ing around the state and be­cause his party con­nec­tions have made him well known among the GOP base.

Wolf is the can­di­date with the tar­get on his back.

“In some ways they sound very sim­i­lar on the broad themes they ar­tic­u­late,” Madonna said, not­ing their talk­ing points of re­form, change and crit­i­ciz­ing Wolf.

“But they’re four peo­ple with widely dif­fer­ent back­grounds and di­men­sions to their cam­paigns.”

Their pitches

Wag­ner, the owner of a trash and re­cy­cling com­pany, is “bla­tantly” ap­peal­ing to the work­ing class base that sup­ports Trump, Madonna said.

“I’ve started this busi­ness from the ground up ...” Wag­ner says in a TV ad called “Tough,” which aired in ev­ery ma­jor mar­ket. “I’ve taken out trash be­fore. Ca­reer politi­cians are go­ing to be real easy.”

Turzai, ap­pear­ing in a video an­nounc­ing his cam­paign at the Bed­ford Diner, stated: “As speaker, we’ve been the last line of de­fense against ev­ery imag­in­able scheme to take your taxes and free­dom. We’ve stopped bil­lions in taxes ... ”

Mango, mean­time, is us­ing his mil­i­tary and busi­ness back­ground to heav­ily crit­i­cize Wolf ’s “ab­sen­tee lead­er­ship” and pitch him­self as the solution.

“This is my re­turn to pub­lic ser­vice,” Mango said in an in­ter­view this fall with The Cau­cus. “No one else has the lead­er­ship ex­pe­ri­ence, the train­ing, the busi­ness ex­pe­ri­ence and the plan to turn around the com­mon­wealth.”

“Lead­er­ship is not about be­ing on top, it’s about be­ing out in front … my lead­er­ship is all about in­spir­ing peo­ple, not in­tim­i­dat­ing peo­ple,” Mango said.

Ellsworth also talks about lead­er­ship.

“Be­ing a leader isn’t about you,” Ellsworth states in a video. “It’s about the peo­ple you lead. Like a lot of peo­ple in Penn­syl­va­nia, I am so tired of politi­cians treat­ing us like we’re stupid. I’m not a pro­fes­sional politi­cian. You bet I’m not. That’s ex­actly what we need right now.”

Sta­tus in Leg­is­la­ture

Wag­ner is not seek­ing re-elec­tion to the Se­nate.

While run­ning for gover­nor, Turzai is still run­ning for his House seat.

Some ob­servers have ques­tioned whether Turzai can main­tain the speak­er­ship while man­ag­ing a statewide race.

Madonna said Turzai might ac­tu­ally have the time to stay on as speaker through­out a gen­eral elec­tion cam­paign be­cause the Leg­is­la­ture could get the bud­get done quickly and not want to be in ses­sion for too many days after­ward.

Still, he would likely end up field­ing com­plaints from Democrats say­ing he’s mix­ing pol­i­tics with ev­ery leg­isla­tive duty he has.

Madonna says there will be an aver­sion in an elec­tion year to the late bud­gets of the last three years and the fis­cal chaos from bat­tles with his­toric Repub­li­can ma­jori­ties in House and Se­nate.

“He might be Su­per­man and be able to do it (re­main speaker), but it’s go­ing to be tough,” said Kopko, adding that he thinks Repub­li­can mem­bers of the Leg­is­la­ture might have pri­vate con­cerns about Turzai not be­ing able to be a chief fundraiser for the party while he cam­paigns for him­self.

The GOP en­dorse­ment

As the cam­paigns heat up, one of the four can­di­dates could get a ma­jor boost in lo­gis­ti­cal and fi­nan­cial help with the en­dorse­ment of the Repub­li­can Party of Penn­syl­va­nia.

Kopko, a lo­cal Repub­li­can com­mit­tee­man in Lan­caster County, said he doesn’t think a state party en­dorse­ment is likely. Turzai and Wag­ner are both re­spected mem­bers who have done a lot for the party.

“Even though Wag­ner is newer, he is largely re­spon­si­ble for get­ting an in­creased ma­jor­ity in the Se­nate,” Kopko said. “He has earned him­self a lot of po­lit­i­cal fa­vors be­cause of that.”

Mike Turzai

Laura Ellsworth

Paul Mango

Scott Wag­ner

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