York County has the political ties that bind Pennsylvania’s race for governor


A secret potion? Something in the pretzels? Too many York Peppermint Patties in their youth?

No, there are no mysterious reasons for why so many of Pennsylvania’s top elected officials are from York County — including three of the four candidates for the top gubernatorial spots in the fall election.

It’s all a coincidence, state officials and pundits insist.

But that doesn’t change that the south-central Pennsylvania county is the current epicenter of the state’s politics.

The gubernatorial race will be based around York natives: Republican gubernatorial nominee and state Sen. Scott Wagner is a lifelong York resident, like his November opponent, Democratic incumbent Tom Wolf.

John Fetterman, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, was born and raised in York before moving around the state and eventually becoming mayor of Braddock in Allegheny County. Fetterman unseated incumbent Lt. Gov. Mike Stack in Tuesday’s primary to become Wolf’s running mate.

It’s all by chance that these top officials have only met in statewide races, said G. Terry Madonna, Franklin & Marshall College political science professor.

“There’s nothing that you can cite other than coincidence,” Madonna said. “There’s nothing that grows in York County that produced that.”

There’s nothing especially standout-ish about the horseshoe-shaped county along the Maryland border. It doesn’t have the biggest population, having increased by just 2 percent to 442,867 between 2010 and 2015, Census records show. That makes its total population about 3 percent of the state’s total.

The county’s median salary is $43,310 and its top employers are York Hospital, followed by the federal government and Walmart, according to the state Department of Labor and Industry.

The York County Convention & Visitors Bureau touts it as the “Factory Tour Capital of the World” for its Harley-Davidson motorcycle manufacturing plant and Snyder’s of Hanover Pretzels. It was also the birthplace of those delicious dark chococlate circles, York Peppermint Patty, now made by the Hershey Co.

But Auditor General Eugene DePasquale didn’t come to York for the Harleys, the pretzels or even the political promise. He moved there for love.

DePasquale said he moved to York after he fell for the woman who’s now his wife. He’s raising his family in the county, where he launched his political career, first as a state representative and then the state’s top fiscal watchdog as auditor general.

“There’s no secret potion that we’re all drinking,” DePasquale added. “If there was, I wouldn’t tell anybody.”

“If you look at Wagner, Wolf, myself, Fetterman, there’s a sure [York] connection,” DePasquale said. “But how all of us have gotten to this level are completely different paths.”

Well, some share similarities. Wagner and Wolf are opposing candidates, but both are wealthy businessmen who funded much of their own campaigns.

Wagner owns several successful businesses, including a trash company he founded. Wolf also owns several successful businesses, including a kitchen and bath cabinetry family business. The millionaires are not neighbors.

They live in different communities about 30 minutes from one another.

State Rep. Seth Grove, R-York, said his county received recognition nationally for playing a huge part in flipping Pennsylvania red for President Donald Trump in 2016.

In meetings with national legislators after the presidential election, Grove said he was surprised to hear reactions, like “Oh, you’re from York, Pennsylvania?”

“It is a focal point,” Grove said. “If you want to win the state, you want to win a national campaign, candidates have to get their butts here. We turn elections in this country.”

Meaning, of course, Wagner and Wolf will be facing off in their home turf.

“We’ll be ground zero in the Battle Royale for the governor’s race,” Grove said.

Gillian McGoldrick is an intern with the Pennsylvania Legislative Correspondents’ Association.

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