Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Here's your update on Republicans looking to take on Gov. Wolf

With money reports out and a party endorsement (or not) coming, time to check in on the four-way race for the GOP nomination for Pennsylvania governor.

GOP candidates for governor, from left, Paul Mango, Scott Wagner, Laura Ellsworth, and Mike Turzai, at a debate in Pittsburgh last month.
GOP candidates for governor, from left, Paul Mango, Scott Wagner, Laura Ellsworth, and Mike Turzai, at a debate in Pittsburgh last month.Read moreAP Photo/Keith Srakocic

If you're like most Pennsylvanians, you're probably dying for an update on the Republican primary race for governor.

No? Well, here's one anyway.

First, I'm betting lots of you have a TV and know at least this much about the contest: There's an Army guy running; there's a garbage guy running.

And that's true. The Army guy is former McKinsey & Co. health-care consultant (rich and ramrod-straight) Paul Mango, of Pittsburgh.

And I don't mean ramrod-straight in the sense of GOP Butler County Rep. Daryl (don't-touch-me-I-don't-like-men) Metcalfe.

I mean posture. Mango's got great posture. Must be his West Point/Ranger School training. Possible slogan: If you like your governors lean and mean, Mango's your man.

The garbage guy is York County Sen. Scott Wagner, also rich. He owns trash and trucking firms. He speaks of them proudly and often. He wants to take the waste out of Harrisburg. You know he's serious because he's almost always ticked off. Possible slogan: If you like your governors mean, Wagner's your guy.

These two have been spending on TV ads. Because they can. Because they lead the four-way field in money. Each gave himself millions. Each starts the election year with millions. Campaign finance reports show Wagner with $5.9 million on hand; Mango with $5.5 million.

(Add that together, by the way, and that's how much Gov. Wolf carries into his 2018 reelection bid.)

The other GOP candidates, House Speaker Mike Turzai and super-lawyer Laura Ellsworth, both of Pittsburgh, are toting, by comparison, much lighter war chests: Turzai, $1.2 million; Ellsworth, $417,000.

So, if you buy the argument that money matters most in a statewide race, you gotta think, this is a two-man, Wagner-Mango, contest.

Ah, but there's a GOP state committee meeting this coming weekend in Hershey, at which the party will or won't endorse someone for governor.

Betting is that it will, and that Wagner is the someone. He's been running longest, and racking up straw-poll wins in regional GOP caucuses. This past weekend, he even won (narrowly) a straw poll in the southwest, home to his three opponents.

Still, there are calls for no endorsement, an open primary, on grounds there are four good candidates and GOP voters should have more say than party operatives in picking the party's nominee.

And some in the game, even if gently, downplay the importance of party backing.

For example, Turzai strategist Jeff Coleman says, "We'd love to have the support of the party, but it's not the number-one reason a primary voter selects a candidate."

Turzai, for several years as a House leader, helped fellow Republicans raise money and win campaigns. So, loyalty is in play. Plus, longtime Tea Party and antiabortion activist members of the state committee are big Turzai fans.

This makes the endorsement issue a separate two-man, Wagner-Turzai race.

What happens? Well, GOP state chairman Val DiGiorgio tells me, "I believe we will endorse" (though he concedes there's talk of not endorsing). And all candidates say they'll stay in the race no matter what the party does (though candidates say a lot of things).

It's clear an endorsement won't prevent a contested primary. But it would be a boost, especially in perception, for an endorsement winner. The Associated Press reports no Pennsylvania GOP candidate for governor in 40 years has won party backing then lost the primary. So, that sends a bit of a message.

All four candidates, of course, claim a path to a primary win.

But do the paths encounter rounds of attack and ambush? And, if so, does opportunity knock for a candidate with limited resources who isn't knocking other candidates (looking at you, Laura Ellsworth)?

There's lots of time. The primary is May 15. Many debates are scheduled, so there's lots of room for missteps and advances.

The immediate questions? Does the party endorse? And do GOP voters move to a place where there's more to the race than an Army guy and a garbage guy?