Top-dollar GOP candidates go negative in U.S. Senate race

Former state Rep. Sam Rohrer of Berks County has the backing of Tea Party groups.  Malvern investor Steve Welch is supported by Gov. Corbett and the state Republican Party.  But Tom Smith, a former coal company owner from Armstrong County, has plenty of cash and is throwing it around with two weeks to go before the April 24 primary election for the U.S. Senate nomination.

Smith, who put $4.2 million into his campaign in December, has been using that cash advantage to introduce himself to voters via television commercials.  Now he's trying to introduce voters to Rohrer and Welch as well, with a new commercial asking "Who is the real conservative."  Smith hits his opponents where it hurts: Noting that "career politician" Rohrer voted for a controversial 2005 pay raise for legislators and that "liberal" Welch, while registered as a Democrat, voted for Barack Obama in the 2008 primary election for president.

Smith may have some trouble selling his commercial's claim that he is a "life-long conservative," since Welch has been hitting back, noting that Smith was a registered Democrat for four decades.  Welch, who put $1 million of his own money into the race late last year, put out a new web video today mocking Smith for appearing confused during a debate last week about his role in Democratic politics.

Smith at first seemed unsure if he had run for a Democratic post in 2010.  He was elected as a Democratic committeeman, though Smith said later in the debate he was forced from the post because of his conservative views.

The back-and-forth ignores the two other Republicans seeking the nomination, Harrisburg attorney Marc Scaringi and Bucks County businessman David Christian.