Pennsylvania's Republican Party chairman called for party unity Tuesday as a hard-edged primary campaign attack ad against its endorsed gubernatorial candidate played on television screens across the state, and another potentially tough attack ad waits in the wings.
At the party's Harrisburg headquarters, chairman Valentino DiGiorgio said Paul Mango's attack ad against Scott Wagner is "over the top" and a character assassination that only benefits the man Republicans are trying to defeat in November's election, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf.
Mango's 30-second ad calls Wagner a "deadbeat dad" and a "slumlord" among other labels that Wagner says aren't true, and promises another ad about "violent Wagner."
Mango has refused to take down the ad, and campaign spokesman Matt Beynon insisted the ad was grounded in fact.
"They may be ugly facts, but they are facts, and we believe the voters of Pennsylvania have a right to know who Scott Wagner is, how he has conducted himself and what type of nominee the party would have if he is our standard bearer in November," Beynon said.
Beynon said Mango's campaign made the ad after Wagner aired his own ad distorting Mango's work as a health care systems consultant.
Wagner, a state senator from York County who owns waste hauling and trucking firms, said it is out of line to characterize him as violent and that he expects a forthcoming "violent Wagner" ad could mention a temporary restraining order his then 19-year-old daughter took out on him in 2006.
Wagner suggested he was trying to save his daughter from going a down a wrong path after an incident with alcohol.
"I tried to save my daughter's life, that's what this is all about," Wagner said Tuesday at the news conference. "And Mr. Mango wants to go after my daughter? He's going after the wrong person's daughter. Trust me."
In a petition for protection from abuse petition filed by Katharine Wagner, she told the court that her father had come to her grandparents' house to confront her after finding photos of her drinking.
As they argued, he put both hands on her neck, squeezed and shook her, making it hard for her to breathe, the court document says. He then grabbed her wrists and pushed her up against the kitchen counter, leaving after her grandfather confronted Wagner, the document says.
In a letter to state committee members in November, Katharine Wagner addressed the matter because, she wrote, Mango had been spreading it around. Wagner did not choke her, she said, and she called Wagner "a good dad and a loving grandfather to my son."
"My father did what any parent would do to save their child's life," she wrote. "And I reacted like an angry teenager by filing a PFA against my father — an act that I deeply regret to this day."
Beynon, however, suggested that the matter would not be part of Mango's "violent Wagner" ad, saying "we've never brought that up. We believe that is between Mr. Wagner, his daughter and the law."
A "violent Wagner" ad will contain numerous other instances, Beynon said. The ad currently airing closes with a narrator saying, "And coming soon, violent Wagner" over a video clip from last year when Wagner grabbed a camera from a campaign tracker working for a liberal political opposition group.
Wagner was not charged in the incident and the campaign tracker did not appear to suffer more than a minor finger injury.
The primary election is May 15. Wolf is running for a second term without Democratic opposition.
Over the weekend, the third Republican candidate in the race, commercial litigation attorney Laura Ellsworth, issued an op-ed titled "our sullied election" that called Wolf, Mango and Wagner "out of touch" and presented herself as the responsible alternative.
"This is no longer the grand exchange of ideas, framed in the idealism that engages citizens," she wrote. "It's rank and petty name-calling without a hint of civic purpose."