I know they’re both 60-something rich white guys from rural York County, which normally would offer as much interest/excitement as a tag-team game of canasta in somebody’s suburban basement rec room.
But hold on. Fact is, Gov. Wolf, who was unopposed in Tuesday’s Democratic primary, and Republican primary winner Scott Wagner couldn’t be more dissimilar.
And, trust me, they don’t like each other.
I’m talking night and day, up and down, hot and cold, or any opposites of your choice, especially (weather-wise) calm and stormy.
Politically and personally, these dudes are different.
The differences will be central to their campaigns. And that should make it easy for voters come fall. We’re looking at a nuance-free election.
Wolf’s a liberal Democrat, and just about everything that goes with that. After taking office in 2015, he was labeled on Huffington Post as America’s “most liberal governor.”
Wagner’s a conservative Republican, and most of what goes with that, but in a populist Trump way, emphasizing anger against big government regulation, taxes and spending. He was and is a Trump supporter. Expect Trump to stump for him. Though not in Philadelphia.
Wolf’s a professorial Ph.D, Ivy-educated, wealthy due to a family business in kitchen cabinets. Wagner doesn’t hold a college degree, grew up on a farm and built wealth through his trash and trucking companies.
Get used to lines such as, “I’m gonna take out the garbage in Harrisburg.”
Wolf tends toward quiet, reasoned debate, some say just too softly. Wagner’s given to in-your-face brashness, some say often too harshly.
National nonpartisan punditry from the likes of the University of Virginia’s Larry Sabato and Inside Election’s Nathan Gonzales and Stuart Rothenberg says the race is likely or leaning Wolf. State polling also gives Wolf an edge.
So, the question becomes: Can Wagner, who spent a bundle to win his primary, give Wolf a run for his money, of which Wolf has raised a bundle?
It would seem a long shot.
Even many hardcore state Republicans privately predict Wolf’s reelection. He’s got incumbency, can tout progress in liquor and pension reform, a gift ban and increased education funding. He’s done little to anger or even annoy voters, unless you’re not a fan of his push for taxes, or the hand he had in how the state got new congressional maps.
(The D.C.-based political newspaper and website the Hill tagged Wolf “the map-maker,” naming him one of “10 governors shaping the future of politics.”)
There’s also an expected Democratic wave thanks to angst over President Trump. Though whether such a wave crashes anywhere in the state beyond the Southeast remains to be seen.
Clearly, Wagner uses the Trump model that worked here in 2016. And he can seek to enthuse Republicans by arguing that a hard-charging GOP governor, coupled with what’s likely to still be a GOP legislature, can push conservative dreams on tax policy, right-to-work, school choice, death penalty, guns and abortion into state law.
Also, and importantly, Wagner has a work ethic and political instincts that serve him well. He was opposed by his party in 2014, when he won a state Senate seat as a write-in candidate — an unprecedented win in Pennsylvania. This year, he was endorsed by his party for governor. Both due to focused, high-energy effort.
But he also gets a little wacky. He sparred, for example, with a political tracker at a campaign event last year. And he’s suggested climate change could be caused by the “warm bodies” of Earth’s population as the Earth moves closer to the sun.
The Wolf campaign could well jump on TV early with a Wagner in-his-own-words ad in an effort to dampen GOP hopes and tamp down Wagner’s fundraising.
Still, it would be a mistake to take Wagner lightly or doubt his counter-punch. Which means, really, the race could be better than canasta in somebody’s suburban basement.