Will Wagner shake up Pa. gov race from the west?

Imagine if you will a wall map of Pennsylvania, stuck with eight red pins representing the declared candidates in the 2014 Democratic primary for governor: They’re all clustered in the eastern half of the state.

The western front is wide open.

No wonder former state auditor General Jack Wagner, of Pittsburgh, is considering getting in the scramble for the nomination to take on Gov. Corbett.

“I’m still in an analytical mode,” Wagner said in a recent interview, adding that he would come to a decision about whether to run, “very soon.” He is looking at turnout patterns, possible endorsements, and trying to figure out if he can raise enough money to be competitive.

Wagner’s entry could shake up the race. Western candidates often do well in statewide races because voters in the region tend to show up in higher proportions, and they are loyal to the West. In primaries, candidates are listed with their country of residence, and regional voting patterns are well established.

Allyson Schwartz is from Jenkintown, Montgomery County. Rob McCord is from Bryn Mawr; Katie McGinty hails from Wayne; Ed Pawlowski is mayor of Allentown; Tom Wolf is from York; John Hanger lives in Hershey; Max Myers is from Cumberland County and Jo Ellen Litz lives in Lebanon County.

Wagner, 65, brings more government experience to the table than any of the current Democratic candidates, though it’s an open question whether voters value career politicians these days. He was president of the Pittsburgh City Council, a state senator for 12 years, and the state’s auditor general for eight. Wagner’s been around the block, and he has proved he can win statewide.

In his 2008 re-election for auditor general, Wagner won 3.3 million votes, more than anyone else on the ballot, including then-Sen. Barack Obama; Tom Corbett, who was reelected as attorney general that year; and state Treasurer Rob McCord, who is in the Democratic demolition derby.

Of course, a campaign for governor is an order of magnitude or two different from a row office race.

Yet Wagner has the classic profile for Democratic success in the west: he is pro-gun, pro-life, and has deep ties with organized labor. Wagner also is a decorated Marine veteran of Vietnam, another plus. He’s a likable guy.

He’s also had some big losses and risks being tagged a perennial candidate, one who puts his name forward for every opportunity. He lost the race for mayor of Pittsburgh in 1993, a 2002 bid for lieutenant governor, the 2010 primary for governor. Earlier this year, Wagner lost in the Democratic primary for mayor of Pittsburgh, despite strong backing from city business interests.

“I have won more races than I have lost, and I’ve won some pretty big races in Pennsylvania,” Wagner pointed out.

He also has a reputation as an anemic fundraiser. Considering that Wolf has said he would contribute $10 million from his own fortune to the race, as well as the cash-raising prowess of Schwartz and McCord, Wagner admitted, “I won’t be number one – but that’s OK.” He said his brand – of a government reformer – is established.

Continue Reading