Sharp-elbowed ad war starts early for Republicans running for Pa. governor

Scott Wagner and Paul Mango are trading blows in expensive TV ad campaigns for the GOP nomination for Pennsylvania governor.

Republican candidates for governor of Pennsylvania, Paul Mango, (left), and Scott Wagner, (right), participate in a debate at the National Constitution Center. (Emma Lee/WHYY, file)

Republican candidates for governor of Pennsylvania, Paul Mango, (left), and Scott Wagner, (right), participate in a debate at the National Constitution Center. (Emma Lee/WHYY, file)

Watch television these days, and you might think a couple of liberal Republicans are running for governor of Pennsylvania.

Paul Mango and state Sen. Scott Wagner are both successful businessmen running as conservative outsiders (even though Wagner has been in the Senate for four years), and both are tapping their own wealth to run expensive TV ad campaigns — trashing each other.

“Four years ago, Wagner promised he’d lower your property taxes,” Mango says in a recent 30-second spot. “He didn’t just fail, he called for a massive new tax on seniors’ retirement pensions. That’s unconscionable.”

The charge comes from an appearance Wagner made two years ago at a Berks County Patriots meeting, where he spoke positively about taxing some retirement income.

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Wagner was talking about the gravity of the state’s budget crisis and said, “The other problem we have, and this really angers me to a certain degree — we don’t tax retirement incomes in the state of Pennsylvania.”

He went on to say he’d explored the idea of taxing retirement income over $50,000 but found it would violate the state Constitution.

Asked about the comment, Wagner’s campaign spokesman Andrew Romeo said in an email that Wagner was talking about the need for broad-based tax reform, adding that Wagner has been a far more consistent supporter of property tax elimination than Mango.

Mango began attacking Wagner in television ads after Wagner secured the endorsement of the state Republican Party. In a new ad, Wagner hits back at Mango.

“No real Republicans support Mango. That’s because Mango is the leading advocate for Obamacare,” an announcer says in the ad. “And get this: Mango’s company is a leader in promoting outsourcing jobs to India and Mexico.”

Mango ran the Pittsburgh office for McKinsey & Company, an international consulting firm. Mango campaign spokesman Matthew Beynon said the outsourcing claim is from a piece on the company’s website that Mango had nothing to do with, and that Mango never supported Obamacare.

Wagner’s campaign provided examples of media reports in which Mango speaks positively about universal health coverage and the expansion of Medicaid. Beynon said Mango was quoted in those stories as an analyst of health care policy, not an advocate, and that he’s been a staunch opponent of Obamacare.

The scrapping isn’t likely to let up soon.

Franklin & Marshall analyst Terry Madonna said in an interview the two candidates are working hard to draw distinctions because they have a lot in common.

“The fact is that, on the major issues and policies and what they’d propose to the legislature, I think Scott Wagner and Paul Mango are really close together, he said.

The other candidate in the race, Pittsburgh attorney Laura Ellsworth, has talked in part about the need for civility and cooperation in public life, but she hasn’t had the campaign cash to compete with Wagner and Mango on television.

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