As the dust settles on Tuesday’s GOP gubernatorial primary, one statistic continues to stand out: The three Republicans vying for a shot at unseating Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf reported nearly $18.8 million in combined campaign spending.
The final tally will be even higher – closer to $20 million – as the final campaign reporting rolls in. Wagner reported some $324,000 in last-minute contributions, Ellsworth $247,000, and Mango $94,000, although expenses during these final days before the primary have yet to be itemized.
But assuming that the candidates funneled those last-minute contributions into campaign costs, the final cost per vote clocked in at a bit more than $26 a pop – The Pennsylvania Department of State currently reported about 731,000 votes cast in the Republican primary.
That cost is roughly in line with national averages for primary spending and is not quite record-setting for Pennsylvania – a 2014 Democratic gubernatorial primary saw upwards of $22 million in spending, for example. But pollster and political analyst G. Terry Madonna said it was still high for the Keystone State.
“We have had bigger spending...but this is close to the most spent,” he said.
Whether the largesse was worth it is an open question. All three spent big on profile-building TV ads, including Wagner, who ultimately triumphed over Mango and Ellsworth. Early polling showed all three Republicans suffering from low name recognition across the state, so the prolonged exposure could give Wagner a jump on advertising before the November general election.
But Wagner, who declared his candidacy last January, was also a party-endorsed frontrunner who endured weeks of searing television attack ads from Mango. Some voters’ first impression of the waste management baron might be a negative one.
Another wrinkle in this race, Madonna said, was that all three candidates were independently wealthy and plowed millions of their own cash into the race. The final spending to clinch the final nomination could also leave both wealthy Republican donors and Wagner strapped for funds ahead of the campaign against Wolf, who has stockpiled some $14 million for his reelection.
Nevertheless, Madonna said he doubted that money would be an issue for the deep-pocketed Wagner.
“There’s no damage there. These candidates are multimillionaires,” Madonna said. “Wolf spent $10 million in 2014.”