Businessman Steve Welch won Pennsylvania Republicans’ backing to run against Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, but insiders say the party’s choice exposes problems the state’s governor has with more conservative party elements.
Gov. Tom Corbett had backed Welch even before the Republican Party threw its support behind him over the weekend, the Philadelphia Inquirer
reports. However, state tea party activists, Philadelphia Republicans, and others complained Corbett was trying to force a candidate on them.
The groups all urged GOP committee members to reject the endorsement process and allow all seven people vying for Casey’s seat to equally battle for the spot in the April 24 primary.
“It is totally wrong for us to discourage these seven people from running for office,” former Northampton County Councilman Ron Angle said. “The bottom line here is: Let the people decide.”
Welch says he’s ready to continue his fight among GOP rivals to decide who will run against Casey.
“As a party and conservative movement, it is time to unite to defeat the Obama-Casey agenda,” he said. “I look forward to a spirited debate over the coming months about the future of this great country.”
Corbett, meanwhile, is working to mend the rifts that have opened with his backing of Welch. He was spotted during a debate Friday, for example, taking individual committee members aside to lobby for their votes.
The governor is seeking to enter this year’s races with a unified group of candidates, including Welch, Cumberland County District Attorney David Freed for attorney general, State Rep. John Maher of Allegheny County for auditor general, and Washington County Commissioner Diana Irey Vaughan for treasurer.
All of the governor’s picks received committee endorsements over the weekend, but when the endorsement convention, held in Hershey began, that outcome wasn’t as apparent. Several other candidates — even though not endorsed by the party — plan to run for the state and U.S. Senate spots.
Ana Puig, who co-chairs one tea party group, urged the committee to forgo a senatorial endorsement, saying “it is time for the voters of Pennsylvania to have a voice in this process.”
Welch has had two unsuccessful bids for U.S. House seats. He is a self-described moderate who has come under attack for registering as a Democrat to vote for Barack Obama in 2008.
“From the very first day I launched my candidacy, I’ve been completely open with the voters about my own partisan history,” he said.
Some committee members said they fear the infighting will show a Republican coalition that is in trouble, but Committee Chairman Robert Gleason said the weekend could prove the party remains solid and has strong candidates and room for debate.
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