New video: GOP gubernatorial hopeful loves West Philly

Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner has posted a new internet video featuring a setting not typically associated with a Republican candidate.

Wagner appears (see video above) in Malcolm X Park in West Philadelphia, talking almost exclusively with black people — hugging, shaking hands, high-fiving a little girl, speaking with a woman wearing a hijab.

His message is that Democrats have let Philadelphia schools and neighborhoods down.

“I don’t care what political party you’re from, or your background or anything,” Wagner tells people in the ad. “You have to say to yourself, there’s something here. What’s wrong with this picture?”

A campaign statement announcing the video said Wagner “is on a mission to be the first governor in generations, Republican or Democrat, to make the people of Philadelphia a priority and run a campaign focused on helping them.”

Democrats will, of course, note that incumbent Gov. Tom Wolf has long sought more education funding than he could get from the Republican-controlled Legislature, and that Wagner is campaigning on reining in government spending.

Wagner will counter that smarter management, not more money, will improve schools and neighborhoods.

Probing the message

Does Wagner really think he can get African-American votes?

Republicans in Pennsylvania haven’t had much luck in communities such as West Philadelphia.

Philadelphia-based political consultant Mustafa Rashed said Wagner’s message appears to be a version of candidate Donald Trump’s 2016 message to black voters: “What do you have to lose?”

Rashed said he doubts the message will sell, because blacks haven’t gotten much from the Trump presidency.

Muhlenberg College political scientist Christopher Borick offered another take on the video.

The ad may not be about getting black votes, he said, but about reassuring moderate whites that Wagner’s not a bad guy.

“Sometimes when ads are done like this, they’re not really aimed at the people that might be in the ad, but folks that might be watching them in more suburban or swing parts of the region,” Borick said.

A truer measure of Wagner’s commitment to campaigning for urban votes in Philadelphia will be whether he puts significant sums into broadcast TV buys for ads such as this one in the fall campaign.

This is story has been updated to reflect that while most of the voters Wagner speaks to in the video are black, not all of them are. 

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.