The traditional Labor Day kickoff of general election campaigns is as much a relic of the past as dial-up internet service.

Today campaigns are year-round affairs, and the starting gate for major races opens long before races underway at the time have finished.

The race for governor of the nation's fifth-largest state began in earnest more than a year ago. It had been ramping up, though, since Scott Wagner, now the Republican nominee, first arrived in the state Senate, fresh off a surprise write-in vote victory.

Wagner made no bones about the fact that he was running for the state's highest office. He positioned himself as a businessman outsider who would fix state government. He aggressively used his personal wealth to elect candidates and curry favor with local GOP pols.

As a result, he emerged from a crowded field as the endorsed candidate of the Republican State Committee and went on to win a sometimes-raucous primary fight.

He now faces Tom Wolf, another businessman from York who spent from his own personal fortune four years ago to capture the Democratic nomination and eventually the governor's office.

Although the race has been going strong for weeks as the summer winds down and folks head back from the shore and mountains, sparks are beginning to fly, and the race is tightening.

Now the ordinarily bland Tom Wolf is calling Wagner "the very worst of Harrisburg." That's the opening salvo; stronger statement to follow.

Wolf's shots at Wagner have come from the comfortable confines of his cloistered world.

Wagner, meanwhile, has been barnstorming the state, meeting with voters at town meetings and forums.

Wagner, like Donald Trump, isn't scripted. He tends to shoot from the hip and 'tell it like it is.' He touts his business background in the rough-and-tumble world of trash hauling.

That's gotten him into trouble a couple of times. Facing voters who ask questions you're not expecting isn't easy. Wagner found that out recently, getting "caught off guard" when asked if he'd sign legislation ending gay marriage in the state.

Earlier he'd lost valuable media exposure when they fixated on his response to a young woman who asked him about campaign contributions. Wagner began by telling her that she was "young and naive." That's not exactly a response designed to engender rave reviews from the fourth estate.

The media spent days repeating the line and Wolf's operatives threw fuel on their sparks. His verbal gaffe overrode an otherwise good media week and obscured his pressing Wolf on education.

What the media didn't spend as much time discussing was Tom Wolf's response to the same young lady. She showed up at one of his events to ask the same question. His response: he ignored her.

As Wolf walked by her, she said she felt the same way she did when Wagner talked to her. Sadly, the media didn't feel the same way. One story was highlighted while the other, like Wolf's response, was largely ignored.

Wagner's verbal miscues point up the major difference in the race thus far. While he's out on the hustings meeting voters face to face, Wolf is closeted away, venturing out occasionally with well-scripted remarks.

That difference was clearly in evidence this week when it was announced that Wolf had agreed to a debate.

That's ONE debate, part of the state chamber of commerce's annual dinner. It will be presided over by a game show host and will last a whopping 45 minutes.

That stands in stark contrast to recent precedent where candidates have faced each other - and the voters - in much longer forums and in several areas of the state. It will cause many to ask why Tom Wolf wants to hide.

Wagner offered to do 67, one in each county. Nobody took that seriously, but we can certainly agree that something somewhere between a single truncated event and one each day would be good for voters, the state and the process.

As things begin to really heat up, the race has already begun to narrow. Most polls have shown Wolf with a double-digit lead, but one released last week showed Wagner within three points. That may be an outlier, but it certainly points out that what all knew would eventually happen is already occurring. It's going to be a tight race.

Some folks are calling Wolf "One-Term Tom," a reference to his vulnerability as the nation's most liberal governor and his constant quest to dig deeper into taxpayer pockets.

Of course, the same slogan was used for governors Ridge and Corbett. Ridge won in a walk and Corbett became the first Pennsylvania governor to lose re-election.

What electoral fate befalls Tom Wolf is known but to God. Ignoring voters certainly won't help his odds.

PennLive Opinion contributor Charlie Gerow is the CEO of Quantum Communications in Harrisburg. His "Donkeys & Elephants" column appears weekly opposite progressive commentator Kirstin Snow.

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