The race to replace Gov. Wolf is off to a squirrelly start

Although the Republican primary for governor is still a year away, there's already activity suggesting a fun-filled fight.

Perhaps it’s just the oddness of Pennsylvania politics. Or the idiosyncratic nature of the individuals involved. Whatever it is, Republican efforts to unseat Gov. Wolf next year are off to a squirrelly start.

First, the only announced GOP candidate, firebrand State Sen. Scott Wagner, tangled at a country club with a political tracker, setting off all kinds of reactions.

It led to questions about Wagner’s temperament, an editorial in Wagner’s hometown York Daily Record calling for an investigation by the state attorney general, Wagner (further) souring on media, and the state Democratic Party (evidently uninterested in any civility awards) labeling Wagner in a news release an “unhinged, cowardly liar.”

Wagner, you see, knows how to make news.

He grabbed the camera of a tracker who was recording, on behalf of a Democratic PAC, a Wagner speech last week at a York County country club. Wagner made the grab after telling his audience, “You’re about to see your senator in action.”

The tracker claimed Wagner assaulted him. Wagner said he did not. There’s been talk of legal action. Wagner tells me, “There’s going to be charges the other way if that’s where they’re going.”

Oh, and a spokesman for Attorney General Josh Shapiro says the AG’s Office received a referral letter from the York County DA “in the Wagner matter” and is looking into it.

This is further proof that the fun in Pennsylvania never, ever ends.

Meanwhile, Wagner is keeping media out of his speeches at party events because “nobody’s interested in the real story. … Nobody wants to write the truth.”

If any of this feels familiar, it’s because a recent political campaign also featured low tolerance for outsiders, threats of legal recourse, and “fake news.”

Wagner clearly seeks to replicate Donald Trump’s 2016 Pennsylvania victory -- by acting like Donald Trump.

He even says he’s heard from “a lot of people” who are happy somebody “has the cojones to stop this kind of thing.”

I’m assuming “this kind of thing” is the common practice of opposition-party tracking, or media in general, or some fuzzy combination of the two.

There’s more.

Wagner and possible primary opponent House Speaker Mike Turzai verbally crossed swords (through media, not face to face) at a GOP dinner in Westmoreland County.

Wagner told a reporter that Turzai, a 16-year lawmaker from Pittsburgh, has no leadership skills or vision and is basically just a product of clueless Harrisburg.

Turzai responded in kind, suggesting that Wagner, a first-term senator, hasn’t done anything: “You can be a bomb-thrower, but in the end you have to accomplish items.”

I’m assuming examples of “items” would be Turzai’s incremental push to privatize booze and a commitment to school choice so strong that Philly Democratic Sen. Vince Hughes recently suggested that Turzai “stay the hell out of Philadelphia.”

Wagner and Turzai are, let’s just say, intense. So a Wagner/Turzai race would be manna from the political gods.

But Turzai has a reputation for saying he wants to run for governor or Congress or seek appointment as U.S. attorney, only to end up staying in the legislature.

And sources say some fellow House Republicans question whether Turzai’s agenda and fund-raising talents are focused on the GOP caucus or himself.

It’s a little crazy all this is playing out with the primary still a year away. And it looks like a third player’s coming.

Pittsburgh’s Paul Mango, who recently retired as senior partner and health-care expert with McKinsey & Co., also is expected to enter the race.

Efforts to reach him were unsuccessful.

But if he’s in, what a variety GOP voters will face: a millionaire trash/trucking magnate with Trumpian antigovernment style; a millionaire biz guy/non-politician from a global consulting firm; and a longtime legislative insider experienced in the ways of Harrisburg (such as they are).

This is a good recipe for a squirrelly but fun-filled campaign.