Paul Mango, GOP candidate for Pa. governor, has little in common with man he wants to replace

Republican candidate for governor Paul Mango of Pittsburgh, a retired business consultant and former Army officer.

Republican candidate for governor Paul Mango, like the man he hopes to replace, is a political unknown who comes from the business world.

And that, he said, is about all he shares with Gov. Wolf.

“I built a half-billion-dollar health-care business at McKinsey & Co. I didn’t take over my dad’s business and sell it to a private equity firm,” Mango, 58, said Friday. “Point number two, I think the issue that is lacking in the commonwealth right now is just leadership. …That’s not part of the profile [Wolf] brought to Harrisburg.”

Mango, a West Point graduate who served in the 82nd Airborne, jumped into the 2018 GOP primary this week with public events in Pittsburgh, Scranton, and the Harrisburg suburbs. He argues that he can shake up and fix what he describes as a languid state government.

He was in Philadelphia on Friday to meet with Southeastern Pennsylvania Republican leaders, on the campaign trail two months after retiring as director of the Pittsburgh office of the  business-consulting firm.

“Pennsylvanians want to be inspired,” Mango said in his first lengthy media interview. “They’re very specific. They think we’re in a rut; they think we’re stalled. We’re stuck in neutral. I’m just giving you comments from focus groups and from conversations I’ve personally had.”

Wolf, the previously obscure millionaire owner of his family's kitchen furnishings business in York County, grabbed the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2014 after a shock-and-awe early TV blitz. He is running for reelection, with improving approval ratings and a growing GOP field.

State Sen. Scott Wagner of York County, a hard-edged conservative who owns a trash-disposal business, in January became the first Republican to enter the race for governor. He styles himself a Donald Trump-style outsider. State House Speaker Mike Turzai, a prolific fund-raiser from Allegheny County comfortable with the party establishment, has told members of the Republican State Committee he is seriously considering a run.

Mango, an expert in health-care policy, said Obamacare, though it has given insurance coverage to more people, has not lowered premium and out-of-pocket costs. But he stopped short of endorsing the House-passed Republican alternative, which would allow states to apply for waivers that would let insurance companies charge more for preexisting conditions.

“This thing is not even close to being finalized yet,” he said.

Mango said he does not want to roll back Medicaid expansion, which gave health coverage to up to 800,000 working-poor Pennsylvanians, though he would like freedom from some federal regulations to build in wellness incentives for recipients.

“Let’s look at things like alcohol consumption, let’s look at overdose, let’s look at smoking, let’s look at diabetes," Mango said. "None of those is moving in the right direction.”

To Democrats, it is significant that Mango did not explicitly rule out applying for a waiver if the so-called Trumpcare bill is enacted. They also noted that the GOP bill would limit money states can use for Medicaid.

"Paul Mango is just like every other Washington Republican that wants to...eliminate access to health care for millions in order to give tax cuts to big insurance," said Beth Melena, spokeswoman for the state Democratic Party.

Mango’s grandfather emigrated from Italy and settled in Susquehanna County, where he worked shoveling coal for the railroad. Mango grew up in Upstate New York and was inspired to enter West Point by his father, a National Guard special-forces officer.

 “I was 7 years old, and I remember when he came home from his jump training, he had lost 20 pounds, was wearing his green beret and shiny boots,” Mango said. “It was, ‘Wow.’ ”

Though a political novice, Mango has big-league help. His consultant is John Brabender, whose previous clients include Rick Santorum, Vice President Pence, and former Gov. Tom Corbett. Washington lobbyist David Urban, a fellow West Point grad who ran President Trump’s campaign in Pennsylvania, is helping.

 Mango has given more than $200,000 to Republican candidates and causes since 2003, federal records show, including 2016 presidential hopeful Jeb Bush and Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.