Wagner and Wolf reach back to push forward | John Baer
The 2018 race for Pa. governor is showing early hints of what's to come. You might want to buckle up.
Scott Wagner and Tom Wolf clearly hope that what happened before in Pennsylvania happens again in 2018.
Wagner's playing his best Trump tough guy, complete with trash talk (pun intended) plus unlikely, if not impossible, promises of things to come. Just like somebody who won the state in 2016.
Wolf's playing Wolf: Mr. Decent; drives a Jeep. Just like a guy who won the state in 2014.
How are they doing at what they're doing? Here are some details.
York County State Sen. Wagner, presumed front-runner for the GOP nod to run against Wolf this fall, used a Pennsylvania Press Club speech this week to body-slam Wolf and offer questionable solutions to school shootings.
He called for a mandatory death sentence for anyone killing anyone in a school or on school grounds. He said he's introducing legislation to make it state law.
And he called Wolf "our gutless governor" for ordering a moratorium on Pennsylvania's death penalty in Feburary 2015.
"Tom Wolf would prioritize the life of an evil school shooter over the lives of innocent children," Wagner said.
(If this was at a campaign rally, I'd expect to hear, "Lock him up! Lock him up!")
Never mind that the last execution in Pennsylvania was in 1999, long before Wolf.
Never mind that legal delays caused a de facto moratorium long before Wolf.
And especially never mind that the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed mandatory death penalties beginning in the 1970s, and reaffirmed them as unconstitutional in all instances in a 1987 ruling, effectively creating settled law.
Despite this, a Wagner campaign spokesman tells me Wagner believes his legislation will be constitutional and, if challenged, appealed "as high as necessary," and that Wagner believes the current Supreme Court would rule in his favor.
Before you call this delusional, remember that delusional thinking has never dissuaded populist pols, or prevented them from winning elections.
Wagner also called for a "highly trained armed security officer in every school building in the commonwealth."
No hint on the how, the when, the wisdom or cost. The Department of Education says there are about 3,000 school buildings in the state. Florida Gov. Rick Scott proposes spending $450 million for guards in every school in his (larger) state.
Wagner said, "People may ask, `How can we pay for this?' And my answer is simple: How can we not?" When pressed, he said, "There's money, and I'm going to find the money."
(Hey, maybe Mexico will pay for it.)
Wagner, who made millions running trucking and trash companies, ended his speech with, "We're going to start taking out the trash in Pa., and that begins with Tom Wolf."
Basic message: Wagner, savior of children; Wolf, gutless trash.
As for Wolf, he kicked off his reelection run this week with a TV ad harking back to the first ad he aired in 2014, which included him driving his Jeep and that helped propel him into the governor's office.
The new ad's titled "That's Different," but it really isn't. It's classic Wolf, in 30 seconds.
He smiles and touches people as a narrator explains he loved workers at his cabinet company, banned his government employees from taking gifts, doesn't take a government salary and still drives his Jeep to the Capitol.
After each point, an "average person" speaks to the camera and says, "That's different," because, you may recall, Wolf ran to be "a different kind of governor."
The ad ends with, "Tom Wolf, working to change Harrisburg for us."
Basic message: Wolf's a nice-guy honorable person who happens to work in a horrible place.
So, if Wagner wins the GOP primary over Pittsburgh's Paul Mango and Laura Ellsworth, expect a Trump-like trek to November. In Wolf's case, expect more Wolf. Then we'll see what piece of Pennsylvania electoral history rises and repeats itself.