Whatever bonhomie Gov. Tom Wolf earned with PA Republicans during the May budget compromise, it wasn’t enough to change their long-term objective. Now that the 2016 electoral cycle is close to being in their rear-view mirror, prominent GOP strategists are already not-so-quietly talking up a bevy of GOP heavy hitters for the 2018 gubernatorial contest.
“We think that Wolf has very little to run on,” said Val DiGiorgio III, chair of the Chester County Republican Committee. “His track record is trying to raise our taxes. He’s vulnerable.”
At least three contenders are now talking openly about running, the most conspicuous of these being state Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, with others waiting in the eaves.
“Jake is interested,” DiGiorgio said. “I think he’d be a great candidate. I think he’d be formidable.”
Corman is one of the most powerful Republicans in the General Assembly. DiGiorgio, Franklin & Marshall professor Terry Madonna, and several anonymous GOP sources all acknowledged that Corman was positioning himself for a run.
Ray Zaborney, a high-profile Republican strategist retained by Corman for campaign consulting, did not respond to a request for comment.
Also on deck: Former Lt. Gov. and Bucks County Republican Jim Cawley, according to DiGiorgio and other sources. Sen. Scott Wagner has already spoken openly about his interest in running for governor.
Wolf staffers pointed out that the governor has had a decent year. There was no repeat of last year's budget impasse, he worked with the GOP on a liquor reform package, and has received praise for his aggressive response to the state’s opioid crisis.
“For years, Harrisburg politicians have done nothing but embrace the status quo and obstruct progress, but Tom Wolf is changing that by reaching across the aisle to get things done,” Wolf campaign spokesperson Brendon Cwalina said.
Many of Wolf’s wins in the General Assembly came at the expense of key agenda items he promoted during his first two years in office. He abandoned a wide-ranging but politically unpopular realignment of state taxes, while making big compromises to an aggressive expansion of educational funding and environmental protections he had promoted.
These moves helped him seal this year’s budget, but don’t seem to have won him lasting affection from Republicans. Cwalina took a sideways shot at their early saber-rattling.
“While others gear up for campaigns and more politics,” he said, "Gov. Wolf is focused on continuing to change the way Harrisburg works and getting real results for the middle class."