Questions for Mango as he joins GOP race for Pa. governor

Paul Mango, of Pittsburgh, is preparing to run for the GOP nomination for governor.

As Pittsburgh’s Paul Mango (who?) steps into the maw of Pennsylvania politics, a number of questions immediately arise.

I mean, beyond who is he.

The 58-year-old recently retired McKinsey & Co. senior partner is to announce Wednesday evening in Pittsburgh -- and then again Thursday in Susquehanna, Lackawanna, and Cumberland Counties – that he’s in the 2018 GOP primary race for governor.

State Sen. Scott Wagner of York County, a hard-driving, antigovernment conservative, has been in. House Speaker Mike Turzai of Allegheny County, an experienced lawmaker and former prosecutor, sounds like he wants in. And others are likely to get in.

But for Mango, it’s his first campaign. He’s not yet given media interviews. His resumé is jacked: West Point, Army Ranger, Harvard MBA. But he’s unknown.

So, even though the primary is a year away, I ran questions by three Republican insiders in (heart-of-the-GOP) central Pennsylvania.

Can political lightning strike twice in successive gubernatorial cycles?

Is the outsider, rich guy, biz-whiz campaign able to be replicated? In other words, can Mango,  like Democrat Tom Wolf in 2014, come out of nowhere with personal money (which backers say he’s willing to spend), go up on TV early, and grab a major party nomination? Is Mango the man for the GOP?

“He could be,” says longtime strategist Charlie Gerow, an elected member of the Republican State Committee. “I don’t know at this point.”

Given the timeline, several others say the same.

Well, then, what does the party and/or GOP voters want?

Chris Nicholas, a campaign veteran, including several Arlen Specter campaigns, says, “The big question in Pennsylvania Republican politics is which model works: the (angry outsider) Donald Trump model or the (traditional GOP) Pat Toomey model? I don’t know what '18 holds.”

The first model fits Wagner, though Wagner was Wagner before Trump came along. The second fits Turzai. He’s been in office nearly 16 years, is known well by party people and, importantly, raised the party lots of money.

But Mango is running as an outsider with insider help. He’s got GOP consultant John Brabender, whose clients have included Rick Santorum, Tom Corbett, and Mike Pence. And he’s got David Urban, a GOP operative, Washington lobbyist, former Specter chief of staff, and Trump’s 2016 Pennsylvania campaign director.

Plus, Mango has given tons of dough over time to Republican committees, PACs, and candidates, including Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Trump (though much more to Bush than Trump or Rubio) and lots to Toomey, according to Federal Election Commission filings.

Ah, but would Mango and Turzai candidacies help Wagner?

State political history suggests so. Two candidates from Western Pennsylvania, where regional voting has been a thing, could detract from each other, thereby helping Wagner.

But here’s the thing. These three, if indeed Turzai is in, will offer totally different campaigns and styles.

Wagner is a workhorse out to drastically cut government spending who should appeal to a broad Trump-like base.

Turzai is an established insider and fiscal conservative popular with business, capable of collecting a huge chest of campaign cash.

And Mango? We don’t know. Like the old (c. 2000) Chris Kattan character on Saturday Night Live, Mango is a mystery -- at least right now.

And if the real Mango presents well, if he emerges as a serious contender, the state party could find itself in a unique position.

“I could see the party going for a non-endorsement for the first time in recent history,” says GOP consultant and former state party executive director Mike Barley.

And after next year's primary, another question will arise: Can political lightning strike twice in successive gubernatorial cycles?

Can an incumbent Pennsylvania governor be beaten (something only Tom Wolf has done) again?

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