Governor's race: Two Yorkers, two very different visions for Pa.
Election Day is less than two weeks away, and as Pennsylvania voters contemplate whether to keep their progressive leader or take a right turn, only one thing is certain: The next governor will be a millionaire from York County.
Democratic incumbent Gov. Tom Wolf and Republican challenger Scott Wagner are both county residents who have owned lucrative local businesses, and both first waded into politics a little more than four years ago.
The governor is running on his nearly four-year track record, while Wagner has pledged, if elected, to "get more done in the first six months than you've seen in the last 12 years."
Wolf visited The York Dispatch offices Friday, Oct. 19, to look back on his first term and make a final case for his re-election before Nov. 6 election. Wagner received the same invitation but did not accept.
Wolf's record: In 2014, Wolf used his money and reputation as president and CEO of The Wolf Organization to claim the Democratic nomination for governor, later unseating former Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican.
While campaigning for re-election, Wolf most often relies on his record as governor, and it was no different during his interview at The York Dispatch.
"I've turned Pennsylvania around," he said. "Pennsylvania is moving in a very different direction than it was when I took over. It's been better, more efficient, more responsible financially, and it's doing it with more integrity."
The governor claimed success on a number of fronts, including combating the opioid crisis, making the state's first deposit into the rainy day fund in more than a decade and boosting education funding.
He also boasted of creating new jobs and signing legislation legalizing medical marijuana.
Wagner's pitch: Well-known in York County as the owner of Penn Waste, Wagner won a historic, largely self-funded write-in campaign for state Senate that same year, although he gave up the 28th District seat in June to concentrate on his gubernatorial campaign.
Wagner has attacked many of Wolf's self-proclaimed successes and touted his own policy positions, mostly relating to education funding and combating the opioid epidemic.
On education, Wagner released a plan in August emphasizing "school choice" and increased funding for charter schools and other nontraditional schools.
The plan echoed that of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, and it was later reported Wagner had taken more than $1 million from a political action committee with connections to the secretary.
On the opioid epidemic, the Republican accused Wolf earlier this month of not working hard enough to put a stop to the epidemic, despite Wolf touting a long list of achievements on the issue.
Wagner went further, recommending the death penalty for high-level drug offenders and scheduling, perhaps optimistically, an "opioid addiction summit" for Nov. 27, three weeks after Election Day.
Polling, fundraising, debating: But Wolf's accomplishments, put up against Wagner's shortened record in the Senate and proposed policies, appear to be resonating with voters on the campaign trail.
In all polls but one this year, Wolf holds a double-digit lead over Wagner. The incumbent also is largely outraising and outspending the Republican.
Earlier this month, Wagner put out a call to supporters saying he's "tapped out" of his own money to put in the campaign. He also accused "establishment Republicans" of trying to undermine his election efforts, but his campaign wouldn't elaborate.
Voters have had just one chance to see the candidates answer questions side by side.
That was during the first and only gubernatorial debate last month, which was moderated by "Jeopardy!" host Alex Trebek. But the performance was deemed insufficient by politicos and other viewers, with some noting Trebek spoke more than the candidates.
Many, including Wagner, called for more debates.
But Wolf said there wasn't a need for more, as the campaign has served as a debate in itself.
"The whole campaign has been one continuous debate through different media," he said. "We've tried to make clear the distinctions between the two of us, and I think we have."
Both candidates have led aggressive campaigns, with Wolf tagging the phrase "the worst of Harrisburg" onto Wagner's name in a variety of ads.
Wagner also recently criticized Wolf for his negative ads in a Facebook Live video before warning that the governor had "better put a catcher's mask on your face, because I'm going to stomp all over your face with golf spikes."
A better era for Pennsylvania? Wolf argued that his more than three years in office have brought Pennsylvania into a new, better era — progress that could be reversed under Wagner.
First, he said that despite past troubles with political gridlock that led to budget impasses during the first three years of his term, this year's budget process demonstrated that the General Assembly is learning to work together.
With the growing relationship, he said, he hopes to continue working with the Legislature to "roll up our sleeves and get things done."
Specifically, he said he wants to continue the progress the state has made in the past few years and tackle any unfinished business.
That business includes continuing to try to slap a severance tax on gas and oil drillers —a move Wagner has dismissed — pushing for campaign finance reform such as banning gifts for all legislators, improving the voting process through same-day voter registration and more.
He added he wants to once again work toward creating an independent citizens' redistricting commission, a measure that received bipartisan support last session but lost its momentum after a last-minute amendment.
But now it's up to voters to determine if they want to continue with the path the Democratic incumbent has helped shape for the state and finish what couldn't be accomplished in the last few years, he said.
"The choice is between moving along the journey that we're on right now or going back to where we were three years and nine months ago," Wolf said. "And I hope the voters decide to continue the journey."
— Logan Hullinger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.
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