Pa. governor’s race could look inviting to Wagner

     Jack Wagner (Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo)

    Jack Wagner (Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo)

    A strong field of Pennsylvania Democrats has emerged as potential candidates to take on incumbent Republican governor Tom Corbett next year, but if former State Auditor General Jack Wagner were to jump in, he’d start with an edge over everybody else.

    Why? Simple geography: Every candidate who’s either announced or considering the race now is from the eastern half of the state. Wagner is from Pittsburgh.

    Jack Wagner isn’t a household name in Philadelphia, but he is west of the Alleghenies.

    He’s a former Pittsburgh City Council president, former state auditor general and former state senator. He’s also run for higher offices — and lost — a lot.

    He made unsuccessful runs for lieutenant governor in 2002, governor in 2010, and mayor of Pittsburgh earlier this year. But Franklin & Marshall political scientist Terry Madonna says the existing field of Democrats could prove inviting to Wagner.

    “Is is enough for him to win? We don’t know,” Madonna said. “But certainly with five or six candidates east of the Susquehanna River, if they divide up the vote in the east, giving Wagner a clear path in the west, that could be one avenue to a primary victory.”

    Western Pennsylvania Democrats have historically been more active primary voters than Philadelphians.

    And while Wagner’s many unseccussful campaigns might brand him as a loser, each of those efforts has boosted his name recognition, something that’s hard to build in a state as big as Pennsylvania.

    On the other side of the argument, Wagner has historically been a poor fundraiser, and a statewide race can eat up a lot of money.

    I’m also struck by his ambivalence about it. Does he run just because he can, and might win?  Does he want the long hours and stress of actually running the state, wrestling with the Legislature, and grappling with a tough set of policy and fiscal issues?

    I’ve always thought that, for an executive office like mayor or governor, you really have to want it, and that if you’re heart isn’t in it, voters will sense that and find someone else.

    But maybe I’m wrong. The current governor doesn’t seem all that interested in governing, and he got there.

    Wagner says he’s thinking about the governor’s race.

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