Standing by the side of the road three weeks before Election Day, Scott Wagner, the Republican candidate for governor in Pennsylvania, wanted to send a message to the incumbent, Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat. It said, in part: “I’m going to stomp all over your face with golf spikes.”
That violent imagery was perhaps the most jarring of several verbal bombs thrown by Mr. Wagner in a video posted to Facebook on Friday, as the country approaches the homestretch of a tense campaign season. By Friday afternoon the video had been viewed over 28,000 times.
“Well, Governor Wolf, let me tell you what, between now and Nov. 6, you better put a catcher’s mask on your face, because I’m going to stomp all over your face with golf spikes,” Mr. Wagner roared, as the sound of cars whizzing past could be heard nearby. “Because I’m going to win this for the state of Pennsylvania. And we’re throwing you out of office. Because I’m sick and tired of your negative ads.”
The ad came as both parties have sparred over the level of civility in politics, with Republicans recently likening Democratic protesters during the confirmation hearings for Brett M. Kavanaugh to a mob and criticizing remarks about Justice Kavanaugh by various Democrats.
Unsurprisingly, Mr. Wolf’s campaign condemned Mr. Wagner’s remarks.
“Scott Wagner’s latest rant shows he is unhinged and unfit for office,” Beth Melena, a spokeswoman, said in a statement. “Threats of violence have no place in society, especially from someone running for public office.”
But Andrew Romeo, a spokesman for Mr. Wagner, said in a statement that his “comments were not to be taken literally.”
“He wanted them to be a metaphor for how he will approach the final stretch of the campaign,” Mr. Romeo said. The video was meant to argue that Mr. Wolf had been “hiding behind false and negative attack ads like a coward,” he said.
The negative ad that appears to have so enraged Mr. Wagner, and which he showed during his Facebook video, claimed that the waste management company he owns, Penn Waste, had sued 6,979 of its customers.
Mr. Wagner defended the lawsuits, saying they were a necessary part of getting delinquent clients to pay their bills. “If you have a company and you render a service, you want to get paid for it,” he said.
Polls suggest that Mr. Wagner, a state senator, may have trouble throwing Mr. Wolf out of office. A poll released last month by Franklin & Marshall College showed him trailing the incumbent by 22 points, 30 percent to 52 percent, among likely voters, with 17 percent of voters undecided. Fifty percent of respondents said Mr. Wolf was doing an “excellent” or “good” job as governor.
Regaining ground in Pennsylvania is a key priority this year for the Democratic Party, which reeled when the state voted for President Trump in 2016. Along with Michigan and Wisconsin, it was one of three states considered reliably blue whose votes for Mr. Trump helped decide the election.
The political terrain suggests Democrats have reason for hope in November. Republican candidates face an electorate, especially in suburban swing districts, that remains uneasy with Mr. Trump. And earlier this year, the state Supreme Court ordered a redesign of Pennsylvania’s congressional districts, which were deemed a partisan gerrymander that favored Republicans.