PoliticsPA: Welch says he will continue campaign in 6th

By Alex Roarty
PoliticsPA Staff Writer

Businessman Steve Welch left no doubt in an interview Thursday that he will challenge incumbent Jim Gerlach in the 6th Congressional District Republican primary.

“If you were us, why would you stop?” Welch told PoliticsPA. “We’re clearly gaining support … we’re bringing a lot of people back into the Republican Party.”

He added it was never his or his campaign’s intention to give the impression he wasn’t going to continue his campaign, even though observers had speculated about it for weeks.

Gerlach shocked many Republican earlier this month when he suddenly ended his gubernatorial campaign and re-entered the congressional race. The incumbent has represented the district since 2002.

Gerlach’s decision chased out two of his primary opponents, former state Revenue Secretary Howard Cohen and state Rep. Curt Schroder, who said he wouldn’t have the financial support to continue his campaign.

But Welch, who has contributed more than $500,000 of his own money already to his campaign, said he can defeat Gerlach because voters want new blood in Washington. Republican Senator-elect Scott Brown victory in Massachusetts on Tuesday showed the electorate wants change, he said.

“What Brown showed it’s not anti-Democratic year, it’s not an anti-Republican year, it’s clearly an anti-incumbent year,” Welch said.

He added that Gerlach’s tenure in Congress will make it difficult to persuade voters he can bring change to the chamber.

“I think it’s hard after a decade to go back to voters  and say ‘I’m different,’” he said. “Whether it’s true or not.”

He pointed to a recent local committee straw poll that showed him garnering 40 percent of the vote as evidence his campaign will receive local support.

Welch will likely face opposition from the Republican Party’s southeast establishment. Gerlach’s campaign said earlier this week it had received the endorsement of Montgomery County GOP Chairman Bob Kerns, and other top officials have signaled they will support the congressman. The NRCC also reportedly backs Gerlach’s re-election.

Welch’s campaign might not have institutional support from top party leaders, but it does start with an early edge in fundraising. The personally wealthy businessman has said he has $650,000 on hand, while Gerlach starts with nearly nothing. Although he raised about $1 million running for governor, differences between state and federal campaign finance rules make transferring that money difficult.

Welch has reportedly courted tea party activists to support his effort, but he told PoliticsPA he’s trying to appeal to a broad-base of Republican voters.

But that effort might be difficult because Welch’s past help to Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak, whom he said he supported in 2006. Welch, who called himself a “lifelong Republican,” said supporting the Democrat was a mistake.

The Republican Party in 2006, he said, lost his support because of decision to increase the national debt and the scandals surrounding the party at the time.

“In 2006,” he said, “The Republican Party didn’t represent my values.”

January 21st, 2010 | Posted in Front Page Stories | 2 Comments

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