Statewide campaigns begin so early these days that it seems like there’s non-stop stumping. Mercifully, all campaigns eventually come to an end.
Tuesday’s primary will mark the conclusion of the preliminary round for 2018. Both parties will choose their nominees who will then face off in November.
On the Republican side there’s been a particularly rancorous battle for governor, marked by increasingly tough ads by the two leading candidates.
From his first day in the state senate, Scott Wagner made it clear that he viewed his seat as a way station on the road to the governor’s office. He built his own political organization, poured hundreds of thousands of dollars from his personal fortunes into local parties and candidates, garnering loyal allies as a result.
Although he positioned himself as an outsider, he worked the inside game too, culminating in his endorsement by the Republican State Committee.
With all of that going for him, Wagner should have locked up the nomination early. But he didn’t.
Wagner’s brusque style and perceived personal “baggage” left some GOP leaders and rank-and-file voters looking for an alternative.
Enter Paul Mango, a highly successful businessman from the Pittsburgh area who was able to self fund a campaign.
Mango was an outsider, having never run for public office at any level. His critics were quick to point out that he hadn’t voted very often either.
Mango went up on television early and matched the vaunted Wagner machine virtually ad for ad during the early going.
Then came the nasty stuff.
What bubbled beneath the surface as a “whisper campaign” erupted into full public view when Mango launched ads boldly depicting what some folks had been quietly talking about for months.
Wagner had already taken shots at Mango, but they suddenly had thousands of dollars of media buys amplifying them.
The war of words between the two went on for weeks.
Negative campaigns tend to hurt not only the candidate who’s being attacked, but also the candidate who’s doing the attacking. Campaigns often make cold calculations based on that premise.
Those calculations get tricky when there are additional candidates in the race. Often third or fourth candidates find an opening between the warring factions in front of them.
That’s what Laura Ellsworth, a Pittsburgh lawyer, is looking for. Unlike Wagner and Mango, she hasn’t put her personal fortune into her campaign. As a result she’s only been on the air for a short time.
However, her message connected with voters, making it a three way race.
What’s amazing is that after all of the back and forth and the millions of dollars spent to promote the candidates, there remains a huge block of undecided voters among the Republican ranks.
How those undecided voters break will determine who wins the GOP nomination.
Meanwhile, there’s also a very competitive race for the number two slot.
Early in the campaign Scott Wagner made the unusual move of naming a running mate. He chose Jeff Bartos, a southeastern Pennsylvania businessman who had previously announced that he was seeking the U.S. Senate seat held by Bob Casey.
Paul Mango followed suit, selecting Washington County Commissioner Diana Irey Vaughn. Irey Vaughn has run for statewide office before, as the Republican nominee for State Treasurer, and built a strong network of supporters across the state.
As a woman running in another “year of the woman,” you’d expect her to do well. But she’s not the only woman in the race. There are two others, both from the western side of the commonwealth.
Peg Luksik has run several times and has her own network of supporters. However, without the money to mount a media campaign, she hasn’t attracted the attention she received in previous elections. Kathleen Coder, a businesswoman who’s served as a borough councilwoman, is also in the hunt.
All of the teaming and non-teaming among the candidates for governor and lieutenant governor may not work.
Under our constitution, candidates for the two offices are selected separately. You won’t see any “teams” on the ballot on Tuesday like you will in November.
It’s theoretically possible for the GOP to end up with a Wagner/Irey Vaughn ticket or a Mango/Bartos team or any combination with the other candidates.
The Republican race for the U.S. Senate pits State Representative Jim Christiana against Congressman Lou Barletta.
Christiana has positioned himself as the future of the GOP. He’s serving his last term in the state House of Representatives, having term limited himself. However, he’s seriously underfunded and was never able to tell his story statewide.
Currently serving his fourth term term in congress, Barletta was previously Mayor of Hazleton. He’s run a low-key primary campaign but has the endorsement of the Republican State Committee.
The good news for Republicans is the large number of candidates vying for the right to carry the GOP banner in the fall and the intensity their campaigns. Republicans clearly believe they can win all three in November. Picking the right candidates on Tuesday is crucial to doing that.