GOP senate candidate Welch on air

Steve Welch of Chester County, the Republican U.S. Senate candidate with the state party’s imprimatur, joined the campaign in earnest Tuesday with a statewide television ad, one month before the primary election.

The ad, first reported by Colby Itkowitz of The Morning Call, introduces the entrepreneur to voters by comparing him to well-known state conservatives.

“How did conservative business leader Steve Welch earn the support of the Pennsylvania Republican Party in the race for Senate?” a narrator says over pictures of the boyish Welch and his young children. "Simple. Grass roots Republicans saw in Steve Welch what they saw in Rick Santorum, Tom Corbett and Pat Toomey - a strong conservative who can win in November."

Tom Smith, a former coal company executive from Armstrong County in southwestern Pennsylvania, is the only other among the five candidates for the GOP nod who has been on television. Polls have shown that Republican voters have few opinions about the field. So far, Smith and Sam Rohrer, a former state representative who challenged Gov. Corbett from the right in the 2010 primary, have been leading.

Corbett endorsed Welch, who was a registered Democrat and supporter of ex-Rep. Joe Sestak (D.,Pa.), as well as President Obama in the 2008 Democratic primary. (Welch has said he voted for Republican John McCain in the general election.) Republican State Committee also endorsed Welch as its favored candidate.

Neither Sen. Pat Toomey (R.,Pa.) nor former Sen. and GOP presidential contender Rick Santorum -- the conservatives whose names are invoked in the ad -- have backed anybody in the Senate primary.

The winner of the April 24 primary will go against Sen. Bob Casey (D.,Pa.) in the fall.