By Keegan Gibson, Managing Editor
Burns, a businessman from Washington County who ran for Congress in 2010, and Welch, an entrepreneur from Chester County who also ran for Congress in 2010, are vying for the support of committee members around the state.
Today, candidates spoke to members in northeast PA and the Lehigh Valley. But unlike last week’s meeting of the central caucus, which was relatively civil, the campaigns brought out the knives.
It started with a flier. Committee members from the northeast caucus found on their tables a flier criticizing Burns over his 2010 campaign, marked as paid for by Welch’s campaign.
The two main points of the flier, according to several people who saw it, were that Burns’ fundraising in the 2010 general election lagged that of his spring special election; and that his numbers general election were below those of Tom Corbett and Pat Toomey.
It got to Burns. He reportedly spent half of his remarks at the NEPA caucus attacking Welch, calling the move “desperate,” “sad,” and, “pathetic.”
PoliticsPA was not in attendance at either meeting.
“It shows a complete willingness to toss Reagan’s 11th commandment into the wood chipper,” said Burns campaign manager Tim Kelly. “If I had to defend our opponent’s record of voting for Barack Obama and supporting a Kucinich-caliber liberal for Congress, I would want to change the subject, too.”
Welch campaign manager Peter Towey defended the criticism, saying Burns’ past performance was relevant to committee members’ decisions.
“In the 12th district, he [Burns] underperformed Toomey and Corbett significantly,” he said.
Towey added that Welch would publicly stand by criticism of his opponents, drawing a contrast with a series of anonymous emails that recently went out to Pa. conservatives. The message blasted Welch for the Obama vote. Towey said the emails were similar to those sent in the past by an opponent’s campaign operative.
“Anything we put out there, we’re going to put our name on it,” Towey said.
But the tangle highlights an emerging dynamic in the race: Burns and Welch each prioritizing the state committee endorsement.
Tom Smith, a former coal company owner from Armstrong County, has loaned over $5 million to his campaign so far and has said that he will remain in the race regardless of state committee’s decision. Indeed, his ideal outcome from the committee process appears to be a non-endorsement.
It should be noted that Smith’s support has come mostly in the form of a loan, which can be refunded, rather than a contribution (which is typical for a self-funding candidate).
But in the face of Smith’s show of financial strength, a state committee endorsement will be a key element in the path to the nomination either for Burns or Welch. Each is wealthy and each has pledged to support his own campaign, but it is unclear ultimately how much the two men are willing to kick in.
Kelly said the Burns campaign would release its numbers this week and that they would be “competitive.” The number will be over $500,000 and under $1,000,000, he said, and would show Burns’ ability to raise money.
Welch has already loaned his campaign $1 million.
Republican insiders are worried about Smith, who is relatively untested on the campaign trail and has received flak for some of his performances at debates and forums. The question is: who will the establishment rally around to take Smith on?
It’s Burns or Welch, most insiders agree, meaning that the stakes of state committee are the highest for them. State committee convenes to make its endorsement decision on January 28th in Hershey.
Burns has stopped short of ruling out the option of continuing his campaign against an endorsement, if one takes place. But his campaign manager echoed Burns’ statement that it would be “very difficult” to do so.
Welch told PoliticsPA last week that he would respect the committee’s endorsement and bow out if it endorses an opponent. He has said the same to many committee members.
“I think it would be arrogant to think that they [state committee members] don’t know what they’re doing,” Welch said. “As long as it’s an organic process, I would respect that.”
Straw Poll Results
The NEPA caucus is among the smallest in the state; consisting mostly of counties on the New York border (Bradford, Lackawanna, Pike, Susquehanna, Tioga, Wayne and Wyoming counties). Turnout was additionally depressed by the bad weather. Welch won among the 16 committee members who attended:
Steve Welch: 7
Tim Burns: 3
David Christian: 2
Sam Rohrer: 2
Marc Scaringi: 1
Tom Smith: 1
And Smith pulled out a convincing win in the NECRA caucus (Carbon, Luzerne, Lehigh, Monroe, Northampton, and Schuylkill counties):
Following last Saturday’s central caucus win by Burns, each of these three candidates has won a straw poll. The show heads to the southeast caucus meeting on Wednesday, where the onus will be on Welch to show strong support in his home territory.
The candidates will visit the southwestern and northwestern caucuses on Saturday.
Update: Here’s a copy of the flier.