GOP Primary to Oppose Casey Getting Crowded

Steve Welch, an investor and holder of six biotechnology patents that made him a prosperous guy, joined the Republican Senate race in Pennsylvania Thursday, saying his background has made him the best prepared to fix the economy by stopping government from blocking private-sector innovation.

Considering that state and national GOP leaders have had a hard time recruiting people willing to take on Sen. Bob Casey (D.,Pa.), the crown prince of a political dynasty, the field has grown crowded of late. At least eight candidates have announced they are seeking the Republican nomination or are exploring candidacies.

Welch, with an ability to “seed” his campaign with some of his own fortune, automatically joins the first tier of the hopefuls, analysts say. He has a top-flight team: respected ad man John Brabender; pollster and strategist Jon Lerner, who worked on the 2010 campaigns of Sens. Pat Toomey (R.,Pa.) and Mike Lee (R.,Utah); and consultant Brian Nutt, who managed Gov. Corbett’s election last year.

Peter Towey, who was Toomey’s political director, has been named campaign manager.

In an interview with Da Tent, Welch said he would put some of his own money into the effort – “I don’t ask people to invest in something I’m not willing to invest in myself” – but declined to say how much. He also is actively fundraising.

Tom Smith, a former coal company owner who entered the race two weeks ago with a traditional fly-around of the state, also is counted in the first tier. He has retained Mark D. Harris, the campaign manager for Toomey 2010.

And Tim Burns, who built a pharmaceutical software company and was the GOP nominee in last year’s special and general elections in the Twelfth District in southwest Pennsylvania, joined the race Wednesday. He has landed Harrisburg consultant Ray Zaborney.

Welch moved fast to deal with an early liability: that he was briefly a registered Democrat and voted for President Obama in the 2008 primary (though he backed Republican John McCain in the general). He explained in a video announcing his candidacy that he was frustrated with the GOP for not living up to its fiscally conservative principles.

Smith has been a lifelong Democrat, and was even a county committeeman, but says he has always been conservative. He got active in the tea party movement.

Also running: Marc Scaringi, a Harrisburg-area lawyer and former Senate aide; David Christian, a Bucks County veterans’ advocate; Laureen Cummings, a Scranton-area tea party activist; Bedford County pharmacist John Kensinger; John Vernon, a retired U.S. Army colonel from Tioga County; and former State Rep. Sam Rohrer, who ran in the gubernatorial primary in 2010.

Here is Welch’s video: