MANCHESTER, Pa. — Sen. Scott Wagner had barely wrapped up his victory speech as the newly minted Republican nominee for governor in Tuesday’s primary when the volleys began.
“Scott Wagner is the very worst of Harrisburg,” screamed the headline in a statement by Gov. Wolf’s campaign.
As the Democratic governor prepared to meet up for lunch Wednesday with his new running mate, Braddock Mayor John Fetterman, at a diner near his home in York County, the barrage continued. A fund-raising appeal by Wolf”s campaign featured a video portraying Wagner as beholden to gas drillers and stitching together some of Wagner’s more divisive statements, including his now-infamous exchange with a political operative tracking his campaign.
The Republican Governors Association on Wednesday tweeted out a 15-second digital ad calling Wolf a “tax hiker who sat on the sidelines while Pennsylvania was almost brought to the brink of bankruptcy.”
That bare-knuckled tone so soon out of the gate is bound to permeate the next six months of campaigning as Wolf and Wagner square off in what is expected to be a bruising and expensive race.
Wagner, a state senator and trash-hauling magnate who often draws comparisons to President Trump, will be running as a ticket with Lower Merion real estate executive Jeff Bartos, who on Tuesday won the Republican primary for lieutenant governor.
Like Wolf, Wagner is a millionaire from York County who can reach into his own pocket to help bankroll his campaign. He has said that if elected governor, his first priority would be to tear apart the state budget to justify every penny in state spending. He also has said he would whack government regulations that he believes put a stranglehold on business and economic development.
But unlike Wolf, whose erudite style often draws comparisons to a university professor, Wagner can be blunt and bombastic.
Although Wagner kept a low profile Wednesday, eschewing public events, he has spent much of the last year accusing Wolf of overtaxing and overspending.
In a statement Wednesday, Wagner’s campaign accused Wolf of “getting down in the gutter” on the opening day of the race, alleging that the governor was turning to negative rhetoric because he had no record to run on.
“We understand that resorting to negative, personal attacks is his only play, because he certainly can’t run on getting anything done,” said Wagner’s campaign manager, Jason High.
Wolf, meanwhile, embraced the spotlight. He set aside a part of the day Wednesday to meet Fetterman for lunch at the Manchester Cafe — a small restaurant nestled into a shopping strip in York County, where both men grew up.
After a tuna melt with Greek salad (Wolf) and a Reuben sandwich with french fries (Fetterman), the two men presented a unified front, with Fetterman speaking almost as often as Wolf and occasionally interjecting to answer questions on his own.
“I want to be clear: Gov. Wolf is going to be just fine on his own record,” Fetterman said. “I’m honored to be a part of the ticket and, if there is a small way I can contribute, I’m happy to do that.”
He said he would envision his role as that of a “subordinate to the governor” and expressed a willingness to work with him.
Wolf, meanwhile, said he wanted to build a relationship with Fetterman based on “mutual respect and trust.”
Asked about current Lt. Gov. Mike Stack, Wolf, whose relationship with Stack has been chilly for years, was polite but also quick to point out he’s looking forward to working with someone else.
“I think he was lieutenant governor,” Wolf said about Stack. “Actually, I think this is a good time to thank him for his service to Pennsylvania, and I think I’m looking forward to working with a new lieutenant governor in the years to come.”