Could it be that Republican leaders have finally found their man, a rich guy willing to fall on the grenade for the team….er, run against Sen. Bob Casey (D.,Pa.) in 2012?
Wealthy businessman Scott Welch of Chester County, who managed to run for Congress in two districts in Pennsylvania before bowing out, is being recruited to make the Senate race. Politico reported that he met with National Republican Senatorial Committee officials in Washington this week.
Welch also was a Democrat for awhile. If he jumps in, could there be an opening on the right in the GOP primary?
Welch, who made millions selling a biotechnology company he founded, was a registered Republican, then registered as a Democrat, and changed back in 2009, about the time he was putting himself forward as a potential GOP candidate to succeed then-Rep. Joe Sestak (D.,Pa.) in the Seventh District.
Indeed, Welch was a supporter of and donor to Sestak, who was elected in 2006, and left the seat to win the Democratic nomination for Senate in 2010. Welch also voted for President Obama in the 2008 Pennsylvania Democratic primary, though he said he voted for John McCain in the fall.
Welch was encouraged to run but then the Delaware County GOP united around Pat Meehan, the former U.S. attorney who abandoned a gubernatorial campaign to run for the seat. Meehan won. Welch moved to the Sixth District, and sought to replace Rep. Jim Gerlach (R.,Pa.), who was then running for governor. Some conservatives ripped Welch as a RINO, and he would have faced opposition from a tea party candidate.
Ultimately, Gerlach failed to get traction in the governor’s race and decided to run for reelection. Local Republican leaders united around him and Welch bowed out gracefully.
Welch did, however, loan his congressional campaign $500,000, and the possibility he could self-fund all or part of a Senate race has Republicans salivating. The party has had difficulty recruiting a high-visibility challenger to Casey, and party leaders would prefer one who would have a financial head start. Senate campaigns in Pennsylvania cost big bucks.
Top-tier Republicans such as Meehan, Gerlach and Rep. Charlie Dent (R.,Pa.) from the Allentown area’s 15th District, have all declined to run against Casey. But Marc Scarinigi, a Harrisburg lawyer who worked for former Sen. Rick Santorum, has been running hard all year, and tea party leader Laureen E. Cummings of Lackawanna County would like to run as well.
Decorated Vietnam War veteran and advocate David Christian launched an exploratory committee last month, and a Pittsburgh-area businessman, Keith Loiselle, is said to be considering a run.
Also interested is the Rev. Joe Watkins of Southeastern Pennsylvania, a former Bush I administration official and MSNBC contributor who unsuccessfully jockeyed for the GOP’s nomination for lieutenant governor last year.
The Independence Hall Tea Party Association PAC has encouraged Watkins and state Rep. Sam Rohrer, the conservative candidate for governor in 2010.
Don Adams, head of the PAC, said that Welch is impressive and his business background might be a good fit for the times, and it’s too early to rule anybody out as an endorsee.
“My main concern would be that he’s never held elected office,” Adams said. “Running for the United States Senate is a tall order…to take on Casey you need more than money. You’ve got to be able to frame the debate.”
Republican strategists are vesting their hopes of beating Casey in the increasingly toxic views of President Obama’s performance on the economy, but the first-term senator is in a better place than many Democratic incumbents at this point. He’s got $3.1 million in the bank, is the namesake of a respected late governor, and people tend to like him.
In the latest Quinnipiac Poll, released earlier this week, a majority of Pennsylvania voters disapproved of the job President Obama is doing and said he does not deserve reelection. Casey, comparatively, is beloved: 48 percent of voters approve of his performance, to 29 percent who disapprove. And 47 percent said he deserves re-election, compared to the 33 percent who say it’s time to give someone else a chance. In this environment, those are stellar ratios.
(Gov. Tom Corbett and Sen. Pat Toomey each had 44 percent approval ratings in the university’s polling.)