Conservative outrage over the Pennsylvania GOP’s endorsement of Steve Welch, a businessman who supported Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary and liberal former Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak’s 2006 campaign, as the party’s nominee against incumbent Sen. Bob Casey Jr. boiled over at Saturday’s Pennsylvania Leadership Conference.
Welch’s conservative opponents charged that Gov. Tom Corbett, R-Pa., used heavy-handed tactics to get the state GOP to push them aside in favor of Welch, a candidate they consider as liberal as party switcher former Sen. Arlen Specter.
According to Human Events, some of the state GOP committee members were threatened with their jobs if they did not back Welch.
Sestak even said the following of Welch in an statement to PoliticsPA: “He expressed support of me and what I stood for. He seemed nice and, separately, supportive of the Democratic Party and its efforts.”
The blood was boiling during the U.S Senate debate when conservative candidate and decorated Vietnam veteran David Christian accused the governor of using underhanded tactics to get his name dumped from the ballot in favor of Welch.
“My sense is the party leadership has the same mentality as the people in Washington,” Tea Party favorite U.S. Senate candidate Sam Rohrer, who won the event’s straw poll, told Red Alert Politics. “They lose track and forget they are supposed to serve the people, and they want to control the process rather letting truth and principle prevail.”
Rohrer, a former 18-year state legislator, has been widely favored in the polls, and highly placed Washington GOP Senate sources have told Red Alert Politics that they like Rohrer but plan to see who wins the April 24 primary before making any endorsements.
And fellow U.S. Senate candidate Marc Scaringi who has scarcely avoided any chances to label Welch as a liberal said the Pennsylvania GOP made a serious mistake backing the businessman.
“It antagonized a lot of loyal Republicans,” Scaringi said. “It reflected poorly against the endorsed candidate who was polling last in a poll done by Public Policy Polling.
“They (the state GOP) are paying the price because a lot of the rank-and-file are upset.”
Most Pennsylvania Republicans want a say in the nomination process with 84 percent saying they want a say in the endorsement process rather than leaving it in the hands of the party bosses, Rohrer said.
Let Freedom Ring President Colin Hanna, a former county commissioner in Chester County just outside of Philadelphia, said the state party selects those who are party functionaries regardless of their ideologies.
But Hanna said the Pennsylvania GOP is hardly alone because most political parties operate in a similar fashion.
Rohrer and Scaringi say Pennsylvania should not be written off as many Washington Republicans have done because Casey’s votes for unpopular programs like Obamacare, Cash for Clunkers, and the stimulus make him vulnerable.
“I want a lot of people to be aware that the dynamics have changed because there is a unique contrast here in Pennsylvania,” Rohrer said. “Casey/Santorum in 2006 was a fluke.
“The big dynamic here is that Bob Casey never had any votes in the elections he ran here, first for treasurer and the for auditor general,” Rohrer continued. “Now he has votes, and you can contrast my votes with his.”
The inside the beltway lobbyists frequently get things wrong, Scaringi said, arguing why Pennsylvania should be viewed as being in play.
Welch defends his record saying that he has mostly been a loyal Republican throughout his political career, but he backed Sestak because of ethical questions surrounding former GOP incumbent Rep. Curt Weldon and that he backed Obama as part of an effort to disrupt the 2008 Democratic primary.