It’s a familiar story: Scott Wagner, Republican for Governor, makes a joke or off-the-cuff comment. It’s distilled into a sound bite by political trackers. And he spends the next day (or days) explaining what he meant.
This week two different Wagner comments made the rounds. Once again, he’s clearing the air.
On Monday the Huffington Post posted comments made by Wagner about welcoming support from the Russians in his election against incumbent Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf. The Pennsylvania Democratic Party obtained the audio from the event in Wyomissing, PA and provided to the Huffington Post for the story.
“By the way, the Russians are going to help me with Tom Wolf,” Wagner says, as the crowd laughs and applauds. “If I have to use Paul Manafort, I will.”
Wagner’s spokesman said the comments were clearly a joke.
“Scott was obviously joking when he made those comments,” said Andrew Romeo. “He thinks that Russia’s interference in the 2016 Election was real and he pledges to work with the federal government to secure fair elections in Pennsylvania as governor.”
The Wolf campaign did not respond for comment on the origin of the recording, but the Pennsylvania Democratic Party did address the Russian comments. Spokesman Mike Mikus took them seriously and literally.
“Scott Wagner is attempting to undermine the integrity of our democracy by calling on the Russians to interfere with the Pennsylvania gubernatorial election” said Mikus.
“Wagner even went so far as to say that he will use his buddy Paul Manafort, Trump’s ex-campaign chairman who is currently on trial for tax evasion, bank fraud and hiding foreign bank accounts, to arrange the interference. While Governor Wolf is fighting to make our elections more safe and secure, Scott Wagner is threatening our democracy.”
Neither Wagner’s campaign nor the Pa. Democratic Party responded to questions about the use of trackers in the campaign.
The next clip surfaced in PennLive. A video of Wagner from the previous night at a town hall in Erie shows his answer to a question about eliminating the recognition and benefits of same sex marriage. Wagner did not definitively rule it out.
“As governor, I won’t be driving that agenda,” Wagner responded. “That’ll be a House or Senate bill that will drive that agenda. And I’ll have to see when it gets to my desk for that answer. I have policy people in place and you’re asking a question- I’m going to be honest with you tonight. The process is a bill would come to the House or Senate to my desk and I would have to give that consideration. I don’t have the answer tonight. But I can follow up with you.”
Multiple outlets led with Wagner’s “I would have to give that consideration,” part of the answer.
The Wagner campaign later said he would veto any such bill, noting that primary opponent Paul Mango repeatedly castigated him as too liberal on LGBTQ issues.
“To be frank, Scott was caught off guard by the question,” Romeo said. “Scott is an employer who believes in fairness and does not discriminate at his various companies. He was willing to lose the primary to protect the rights of the LGBTQ community and he would veto any bill that would restrict marriage rights for same-sex couples.”
The Wolf campaign pounced on the response to label Wagner as anti-LGBTQ.
“Scott Wagner saying he would consider signing a bill that would make same sex marriage illegal in Pennsylvania is an absolute disgrace,” said Wolf communications director Beth Melena. “Pennsylvanians need a governor who will stand up for everyone in the commonwealth, including those in our LGBTQ community, and Scott Wagner is clearly not up for the job. Scott Wagner is a dangerous candidate who would take Pennsylvania backwards.”
The two clips join a longstanding trend of trackers getting the goods from Wagner.
Last May, Wagner had a confrontation with an employee of American Bridge 21st Century, a liberal Super PAC, who was videotaping him at a private event. Wagner took his camera. Attorney General Josh Shapiro decided against any charges in the incident.
“Yesterday a tracker… lied and trespassed on private property for a speech that I was giving in my role as a senator,” Wagner said in a statement posted in a York Dispatch article. “Instead of leaving when he was asked, the tracker continued to harass me and the people at the event, and finally I assisted in removing his camera. There are times when there is no choice but to stand up and confront the cheater in the room.”
Last August, Wagner got into hot water when he criticized progressive megadonor George Soros, a holocaust survivor from Hungary.
“You know what’s amazing is that a guy who came from Hungary, a Hungarian Jew, and made a fortune, and think where he came from, and he has an opinion of America that he does,” Wagner told a Democratic party tracker.
In July Rose Strauss captured headlines when she had asked Wagner for his position on climate change. He responded in a joking tone, in part, that she was “young and naive.” (Strauss later criticized Wolf for not responding to a question on climate change while he entered a campaign event).