GOP hopefuls make final live-televised pitches

Ellsworth, Mango, Wagner vie for governor’s post

HARRISBURG — Republicans seeking the nomination to challenge Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf in November made their final pitches in their last live-televised debate Friday night, with less than two weeks until Pennsylvania’s primary election, and worked to leave a lasting impression of themselves and their rivals.

Scott Wagner, the party’s endorsed candidate, said during the hour-long debate at WGAL-TV in Lancaster that he would level with people and fight for people, and he characterized himself as a workaday Pennsylvanian. Laura Ellsworth cast herself as an independent outsider who is experienced at getting things done and who is a woman in what will be the political “year of the woman.”

Paul Mango said neither Wagner nor Ellsworth would provide nearly as much contrast with Wolf’s liberal record as his conservative stances would. Mango also repeatedly hammered Wagner as having character flaws too great to beat Wolf — a reference to an eyebrow-raising attack ad that Mango first aired four weeks ago — and elicited an unusual acknowledgment from Wagner.

“The bottom line is, I have character flaws, I’m not a perfect person,” Wagner said. However, Wagner also pressed the theme that Mango is an “elitist.” That drew a passionate response from Mango, raising his upbringing in a house in which a family of seven used the same bathroom and accusing Wagner of being critical of his military service and success.

“I’m sick and tired of the senator criticizing my service and my success,” Mango said.

The primary election is May 15, and polling in the race is sparse.

Ellsworth is a commercial litigation attorney who recently chaired the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce. Mango is a retired health care systems consultant who attended West Point and Harvard University. Wagner, of York County, has served in the state Senate since 2014 and founded the $75 million waste hauler Penn Waste Inc. despite never graduating from college.

Ellsworth and Mango are first-time candidates and live in suburban Pittsburgh.

They disagreed on various issues Friday night, mostly ground that was covered in previous debates. Ellsworth does not favor replacing local school property taxes with higher state sales and income taxes, but Mango and Wagner do. Wagner supports raising the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $9.50 or $9.75, while Ellsworth and Mango oppose raising it.

All three support the death penalty, although Ellsworth qualified her support, saying she would only sign death warrants “where it has a meaningful, deterrent effect.”

At another point in the debate, Mango defended running the attack ad, which calls Wagner a “deadbeat dad,” among other things.

“I think it is our duty to ensure that Republican primary voters understand all of our backgrounds prior to the time they cast their vote,” Mango said.

Wagner has disputed the ad’s contentions, but declined Mango’s invitation to discuss it in Friday night’s debate.

Wolf is seeking a second four-year term and doesn’t face a primary challenge.