opinion

Of early ads in Pennsylvania's 2018 race for governor

John Baer, STAFF COLUMNIST

Updated: Wednesday, September 20, 2017, 7:16 AM

Paul Mango, of Pittsburgh, iis running for the GOP nomination for governor. He just launched early campaign ads.

Lots of thinking goes into when to release campaign TV ads.

Take (very early) ads airing in Western Pennsylvania for Pittsburgh biz whiz Paul Mango.

The wealthy first-time candidate is seeking the Republican nomination for governor next May to take on Democratic Gov. Wolf next November.

Yet Mango released two ads last Friday. They’re running digitally statewide, on cable TV in the Pittsburgh and Altoona/Johnstown markets, and headed to TV markets in the eastern end of the state in coming weeks.

Maybe a month’s worth of air time.

Why now? We’ll get to that. But first, the ads.

One includes what to the GOP base is something akin to a sacred imprimatur: a photo of Mango receiving his West Point diploma from President Reagan.

Imagine the unmitigated glee Mango media-meister John Brabender (past clients include Mike Pence and Rick Santorum) felt upon finding such hallowed political ammo.

“Ah, yes,” says a longtime Republican consultant not affiliated with the Mango campaign, “First time I saw it, I thought `we’re going to see that everywhere.’”

(The photo’s prominently featured on Mango’s website, mangoforpa.com.)

The ad, titled “Ready to Serve,” highlights Mango’s service as an Army Ranger in the 82nd Airborne Division, and Mango tough-talking to camera: “I think it’s time for liberals like Tom Wolf to step aside and let someone who actually knows how to carry out a successful mission take over.”

It, of course, ends with Mango saying, “I’m ready to serve.”

The second spot, “Opposites,” offers a blue-jeaned Mango reminding viewers that Wolf (in 2015) was labeled America’s most liberal governor. Then Mango talks about high taxes, says he’ll lower taxes, create jobs, blah, blah, blah; and basically do the opposite of whatever Wolf’s doing.

Lots of time for details, but it’s the timing of the ads that’s interesting.

Mango is lesser known to the Republican base than his so far sole primary opponent, firebrand State Sen. Scott Wagner of York.

Wagner’s been running for governor for more than a year. So it makes sense for Mango to get his bio info out there.

And Mango’s ads are up during the week headed into the Republican State Committee’s annual fall meeting in Harrisburg this weekend. Both Mango and Wagner are scheduled to attend. The ads are bound to bring Mango buzz. (Mango’s hosting a reception Friday night. Wagner’s holding a fund-raiser for GOP judicial candidates the day before the meeting.)

Also, Mango’s preemptive shots at Wolf come at a time when Wolf, thanks to a lingering state budget mess, isn’t exactly at a high point. Jabs thrown to soften a possible opponent can be effective if the possible opponent already is a tad soft.

Finally, while Mango’s ads presume he’s his party’s nominee, which is by no means the case, they’re likely to cause a touch of heartburn in Wagner’s camp.

If Mango’s spending on TV now, should Wagner also get on the air; or at least worry about what broadcast fusillade lies ahead?

Wagner campaign manager Jason High says, “We have a strategy and we’re going to execute it. We would rather not have to spend a lot of money on a primary but if that’s what we have to do, that’s what we’ll do.”

So, the new ads not only preview what the 2018 general election race might look like, they also put down markers for what would be a costly, likely nasty primary between two very different Republicans.

(I’m still of the view House Speaker Mike Turzai does not enter the contest, unless a final state budget – whenever, if ever – includes no new taxes, and Turzai emerges as a superhero to the GOP base.)

Long way to go, no question; and other candidates could get it. But they better bring money — or a photo of themselves with Reagan.

John Baer, STAFF COLUMNIST

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