POLITICS: PennAve

Jack Wagner adds name to crowded Democratic primary field in Pennsylvania governor race

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Steve Doty,2014 Elections,Campaigns,PennAve,Tom Corbett,Pennsylvania

The Democratic field in Pennsylvania's gubernatorial race just got bigger after former state Auditor General Jack Wagner announced his intention to run.

Wagner will become the eighth candidate to challenge Republican incumbent Gov. Tom Corbett.

Other than adding another high-profile name to a large Democratic field, Wagner brings one important factor to the race: He's the only Democratic candidate running with ties to western Pennsylvania, and that could be his biggest advantage in a primary where candidates are searching for ways to separate themselves.

"Up until this point, all of the declared candidates were looking to get a large percentage out of the west in order to get to a win total," Democratic strategist Michael Bronstein said in an email. "Now the winning formula changes, as Wagner has a natural base out there."

The former auditor general is late to the game and will have to make up ground quickly if he wants to mount a serious campaign in a race that has already seen thousands of dollars spent and TV ads go up across the state.

"He only has $50,000 [cash] on-hand while the other candidates have millions," Franklin & Marshall College political pollster Terry Madonna said late Thursday night. "He was by consensus a rock solid auditor general, but money is still king."

Similar to most states, a majority of Pennsylvanians live around the major cities. Races are typically won and lost along the eastern edge of the commonwealth in Philadelphia and its six surrounding counties. However, because the other seven Democratic candidates have eastern ties, the west has been left wide open, and Pittsburgh and Allegheny County could provide a major boost to any candidate.

"There are several Democratic counties but they are not large, except for Allegheny," Madonna said. "In the past they did vote the 'friends and neighbors' effect."

Wagner will need his base to fire up voters in the west and have the other seven candidates split the east. If that happens and Wagner's ground game can catch up quickly to the other established campaigns, he may give front-runner Rep. Allyson Schwartz strong competition.

Many prominent union leaders and state Democrats have already thrown their support behind a candidate, and that will pose a problem for Wagner as well ahead of this summer's primary.

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