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Jack's Back: Wagner becomes only Western Pa. candidate in gov's race

"You can sum it up in one word, Geography."

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Prior to Feb. 20, western Pennsylvania's main involvement in the governor's race was deciding which eastern Pennsylvania Democrat to support in the May primary.

But on that day, the race came a bit closer to home: After months of speculation, South Hills Democrat Jack Wagner decided to jump into the race. Wagner will be the seventh candidate in the race; minister and businessman Max Myers dropped out Feb. 24.

Wagner's candidacy has surprised some. In the 2010 gubernatorial race, he lost the Democratic primary to fellow Allegheny County son Dan Onorato, who won by more than 20 percentage points and 200,000 votes. This time around, Wagner has little cash on hand — about $30,000 — and is well behind in terms of raising money, building a campaign team and garnering endorsements.

So why get involved at this late date?

"You can sum it up in one word: geography," says G. Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College.

Madonna notes that the race has already passed some key milestones, including an early-February endorsement meeting of the Democratic Party's state committee. (No candidate came away with the two-thirds majority needed for an endorsement.) At this point, says Madonna, Wagner "has no money and a lot of the unions and other groups have already picked their horses, so what else could the rationale be? I think he sees there are a bunch of candidates from the east, and he [thinks] he can draw well enough in the Pittsburgh media market to make a run."

But Wagner told City Paper recently that geography had "nothing to do" with his decision. He says Gov. Tom Corbett "doesn't have a vision as it relates to our economy and education" and that "those issues and others are just sitting out there unaddressed in limbo. I have a passion to improve Pennsylvania."

Wagner is also positioning himself as more "moderate" than the race's other marquee Democrats: U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, state Treasurer Rob McCord, former DEP secretaries Katie McGinty and John Hanger, and millionaire businessman Tom Wolfe. Wagner says his moderate views best represent Pennsylvanians, "the majority of whom I consider moderate and [who] share those same moderate views."

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