HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – Former state Auditor General Jack Wagner tossed his hat into Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial ring Thursday, voicing confidence that he would qualify for the Democratic primary ballot and professing to be undaunted by potential foes who have raised millions in campaign cash.
“I’m getting a great reception,” Wagner said in a telephone interview from Pittsburgh, referring to his supporters who are gathering voter signatures for his nomination petition.
The candidates have until March 11 to collect at least 2,000 signatures each from registered Democrats, including 100 each in 10 different counties, to get on the ballot. The primary is May 20.
Wagner becomes the eighth candidate in a field that had been static for five months and he also is the only Democratic candidate from western Pennsylvania.
The other candidates are York businessman Tom Wolf, U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, state Treasurer Rob McCord, former state environmental protection secretaries Katie McGinty and John Hanger, evangelical minister Max Myers and Lebanon County Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz.
The winner of the primary will challenge Republican Gov. Tom Corbett in the general election.
Wagner, 66, a Vietnam War veteran and former state senator, conceded that he is likely to be outspent by some of his opponents, who collectively raised more than $27 million last year, and that fundraising is “an area where I’m significantly behind.”
“I have almost always in my campaigns been outspent,” he said. “We have won by being aggressive on the issues and being forthright.”
Wagner said he intends to campaign on some of the issues he raised during his two terms as Pennsylvania’s independently elected fiscal watchdog. For example, he said the state could save $300 million a year by eliminating a “flaw” in the school funding formula that allows Internet-based cyber schools to be reimbursed at the same rates as brick-and-mortar schools.
“State government has shown no leadership on that issue,” he said.
Reaction to Wagner’s candidacy from the other hopefuls was muted.
“It changes nothing in terms of our ability to win,” said Mike Mikus, McGinty’s campaign manager.
Wagner, who began his political career as a Pittsburgh city councilman, sought the Democratic nomination for governor in 2010 but was defeated in the primary by Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato, who lost to Corbett.
Last year, Wagner ran for Pittsburgh mayor but was defeated in the primary.