Wagner invests in early ad campaign to be GOP pick for Pa. gov

Pennsylvania’s governor’s race won’t take place until next year, but state Sen. Scott Wagner, a millionaire who made his fortune in the solid-waste business, is already investing big in a TV ad campaign.

The Wagner campaign would say only that the ad purchase is statewide with spots in every market.

A source in the political ad business tells me the buy is about $530,000 for ads that began Dec. 14 and will run through New Year’s Eve.

Veteran Democratic media consultant Neil Oxman said this mirrors a strategy Gov. Tom Wolf also did early ad buys in his successful campaign four years ago.

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“It’s very smart strategy,” Oxman said, “because, when you’re by yourself on TV, your message isn’t being diluted by 10 other candidates in the field, so your money goes much farther.”

Staying with what you know

In his ad, Wagner stands next to grinding trash-sorting equipment and uses plenty of waste-disposal lingo in his pitch.

“My plan will junk the property tax, cut wasteful spending, and put big government in the dumpster,” Wagner says into the camera. “I’ve taken out trash before. Career politicians are going to be real easy.”

Wagner is running as a maverick who’ll bring a businesslike changes to Harrisburg.

Oxman said there’s another advantage to buying ads early in the election cycle, if you can afford it.

“The weather’s really cold in the state,” Oxman said. “People are inside, they’re watching TV, and I would expect this will really help him.”

Two can play

The other Republican candidate who’s made some early buys on television is Pittsburgh businessman Paul Mango.

He’s invested more than $300,000 so far, according to my source in the political ad business.

While Wagner’s ad is named “Tough,” Mango’s ad called “Ready to Serve” might just as easily have been named “tough as nails.”

The ad has a music track that sounds like an action movie, and Mango says in a voiceover that he went to West Point, completed Army Ranger training, served as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division, and “knows how to carry out a successful mission.”

It’s perhaps no accident that the two candidates who’ve made early investments in advertising are the two with the personal wealth to at least partially fund their own campaigns.

The other two GOP candidates are State House Speaker Mike Turzai and Pittsburgh businesswoman Laura Ellsworth.

We’ll have a better idea of how much the candidates have raised and contributed to themselves at the end of January, when campaign finance reports for 2017 are due.

Beth Melena, a spokeswoman for the state Democratic Party, issued a statement that “if Scott Wagner wants to take out the trash in Harrisburg, he should start by looking in the mirror.”

Melena calls Wagner a “Harrisburg insider” who will favor oil and gas companies, cut education funding, take away women’s health care options and gut Medicaid funding.

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