- Associated Press - Friday, January 20, 2017

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Marking his second anniversary as governor, Pennsylvania’s Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf is acknowledging a key populist theme that helped get President Donald Trump elected, namely economic anxiety in this hard-hit rust belt state.

In a nod to voters who delivered Pennsylvania to Trump, Wolf said Friday on the presidential inauguration day that he is listening to voters dissatisfied with the economy.

“And no matter who you voted for, every one of us must recognize the reality that too many middle-class and working-class families are hurting,” Wolf said in a three-minute video message posted on his office’s website. “I’ve traveled to every corner of Pennsylvania - from Hazelton to Connellsville, Edinboro to Norristown, to inner cities and rural counties - to listen to you. And what I’m hearing is that the economy isn’t working for you and that you’re looking to your elected leaders to act.”

Facing the prospect of another politically charged and bruising budget fight with the Republican-controlled Legislature, Wolf said he will present a plan during his Feb. 7 budget address “for rebuilding our middle class.”

Wolf’s message comes as he gears up for his 2018 re-election bid. First in line to challenge him is a Republican state senator, Scott Wagner, from Wolf’s own York County, who is often compared in political circles to Trump: a brash anti-establishment outsider with a background in business.

Already on the campaign trail, Wagner has criticized Wolf as a failed governor who is an ally of special interests, specifically the public-sector labor unions of which Wagner is particularly critical. Wagner has targeted Wolf’s business background, calling him a seventh-generation business owner, not self-made, who lacks the acumen to be a hands-on operator.

Wagner has opposed Wolf’s proposed tax increases to patch a deficit-ridden budget he inherited, and has pointed out that the state’s unemployment rate has risen since Wolf became governor.

“He can’t spin his way out of his failed record with an online video,” Wagner’s campaign said Friday.

Wolf’s message seemed to carry a response to Wagner’s campaign-trail criticism.

Wolf touted his accomplishments - such as boosting aid to public schools and developing strategies to fight the state’s drug addiction wave - and hit on outsider and everyman notes.

“Pennsylvania, I have shown that we can do things differently,” Wolf said. “Take on special interests and the well-connected to make Pennsylvania stronger.”

He is not, he said, a product of the “political system.” He touted his small town roots in Mount Wolf, a town named for an ancestor. And he called himself the first Pennsylvania governor “who operated a forklift, managed a hardware store and served in the Peace Corps and ran a business.”

He also said he “built a business the right way,” saying that he shared profits with employees and transformed his building materials supplier into a distributor of domestic products that competed with Chinese goods.

If there was any anti-establishment theme in Wolf’s message, it seemed targeted at partisanship.

“We need leaders today who are willing to listen to each other, learn from each other, and work together to give all Pennsylvanians a shot at a great life,” Wolf said. “This age and this time demands nothing less.”

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