Facing criticism from members of both parties, Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner is walking back comments he made in a campaign video early Friday in which he warned Gov. Wolf that he would "stomp all over" his "face with golf spikes."
Standing in front of an anti-Wagner billboard and next to a pile of paychecks on a collapsible chair, the former state senator made the claims in a three-minute live video posted to his campaign's Facebook page Friday morning.
"I love your campaign stuff," Wagner said in the video, mainly taking aim at Wolf's negative campaign ads and treatment of small businesses. "Somewhere yesterday your people said that I've raised a white flag. Well, Gov. Wolf, let me tell you, between now and Nov. 6, you better put a catcher's mask on your face. Because I'm going to stomp all over your face with golf spikes because I'm gonna win this for the state of Pennsylvania."
"And we're throwing you out of office, because I'm sick and tired of your negative ads."
Late in the day Wagner removed the video from Facebook, but only after it went viral and drew attention from national news organizations.
Immediately after it was posted, Democrats cried foul, and prominent Republicans began condemning Wagner's remarks. U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, the No. 3 House Republican, wrote on Twitter that "there is absolutely no place in our politics for this kind of rhetoric."
In a new video Wagner released Friday evening, he said: "I may have chosen a poor metaphor. I may have had poor choice of words. I shouldn't have said what I said."
But he continued to bash Wolf, and told viewers not to "confuse anger with passion."
Asked about Wagner's comments Friday, Wolf told the Inquirer editorial board, "First of all, I think that would hurt. I'm not sure I'd like that."
He called the comments inappropriate, and his spokeswoman said Wagner's "latest rant shows he is unhinged and unfit for office."
"Threats of violence have no place in society, especially from someone running for public office," Beth Melena wrote. "This is part of an unfortunate pattern with Scott Wagner."
Earlier Friday, Wagner's campaign said the comments were "not to be taken literally."
"He wanted them to be a metaphor for how he will approach the final stretch of the campaign," spokeman Andrew Romeo said. "Tom Wolf has spent the entire race hiding behind false and negative attack ads like a coward instead of debating in front of the people of Pennsylvania and Scott will spend the last month of the race making it clear to voters why they should not give him a second term."
And Wagner is clearly in search of a boost. After their lone, somewhat polite debate — one overshadowed by a game show host-turned-moderator — Wagner's bid to position himself as a self-made businessman ready to "take out the trash" in Harrisburg has struggled to gain momentum.
This isn't the first time Wagner's comments have raised eyebrows in a campaign that's drawn comparisons to that of President Trump.
Last month in Wilkes Barre, the Republican nominee re-told a story published in March 2016 by an anonymous 80-year-old Trump supporter, comparing immigrants to raccoons.
As Democrats condemned the recitation of the letter as racist, Wagner doubled down on his approach.