Pennsylvania Democrats face a dilemma in choosing their next candidate for governor. The November election will in many respects be a referendum on the incumbent. So, they must select someone who may share Democratic Gov. Rendell's best attributes, but won't remind voters of his shortcomings.

That candidate exists. He comes from the Pittsburgh area. But he's not the man with the most cash in the primary race. That would be Dan Onorato, who as Allegheny County executive has an urban government background that matches former Philadelphia Mayor Edward G. Rendell's. But that's not all they share.

Many of now-Gov. Rendell's deep-pocketed campaign contributors are on the Onorato bandwagon, suggesting that they may think he would be a sequel to Rendell.

But this is not a time when voters want what they've already had. Coming out of the recession, with state budgets across America desperate for resuscitation, they want elected leaders who make hard decisions about spending and taxes that they can confidently expect to be devoid of any calculation other than the best bottom line.

The Democrats' best choice to provide that type of fiscal leadership is someone who is already taking a focused, unbiased look at how Pennsylvania can do a better job managing its budget. The Inquirer endorses state Auditor General JACK WAGNER to be the Democratic nominee for governor.

Wagner's background makes him a very attractive candidate. The Marine veteran earned a Purple Heart in Vietnam. After graduation from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, he became a safety engineer and joined the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. He served 10 years on the Pittsburgh City Council and 10 years in the state Senate.

Wagner was elected auditor general in 2004 and was reelected in 2008, receiving the most votes of any candidate on the ballot in that presidential election year. That's a tribute to his determination as a fiscal watchdog. Under Wagner, the Auditor General's Office has completed more than 25,000 audits that have saved taxpayers millions of dollars.

He promises to maintain that approach if elected governor. Among his proposals, he would end expensive sole-source or emergency contracts to just one bidder, and end pay-to-play deals where state contracts can be traced to political donations.

Wagner supports a constitutional convention to consider the size and scope of state government. To help get the state to shape up fiscally, he would deny pay to legislators for every day the state budget is late. Wagner also would eliminate bonuses for state workers, support caps on political donations, and have an independent commission redraw legislative district lines.

Paying particular attention to Pennsylvania's crumbling infrastructure, including bridges and highways, Wagner says he won't rule out a higher gasoline tax, but he would also consider higher driver's license fees or a tax on tires. He also said tolling Interstate 80 may yet be possible, if the federal requirement to spend the revenue on that road is met.

On social issues, Wagner isn't too far from positions more prevalent in Philadelphia. Personally opposed to abortion, he says he would support a woman's right to choose were states allowed to set their own laws. CeaseFirePA gave Wagner a C+ for his gun-law positions, but he nonetheless is in step with the other Democrats on several key gun-safety initiatives.

Philadelphians are more familiar with the two other candidates in the Democratic primary - State Sen. Anthony Williams and Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Hoeffel. Both have the experience in government that makes them credible candidates. But Wagner's background as a fiscal steward makes him best of all.