By Keegan Gibson, Managing Editor
Sources indicate that Welch, a Chester County entrepreneur, has the votes. With the support of Governor Tom Corbett, an endorsement is looking likely.
Burns, a Washington County businessman who ran for Congress in 2010, is doing everything he can to remind the committee that Welch switched to the Democratic party in 2005, contributed money to Joe Sestak, and voted for Barack Obama in the 2008 primary.
Burns has also alleged – in person and in his literature – that Welch hosted a fundraiser for Sestak; Welch has flat-out denied it. PoliticsPA checked with the former Congressman, who characterized the event as a casual meet and greet, not a fundraiser.
Here’s what Sestak wrote:
“You asked me to get back to you later this week on Steve Welch (sp?) and what he said in our meeting and his support of me in my first congressional campaign in 2006: although it has been some time and I can’t recall all the exact details, he invited me over to his home. While there, we spoke mainly about business investment and his efforts in that area. He expressed support of me and what I stood for. He seemed nice and, separately, supportive of the Democratic Party and its efforts.”
Welch has since argued that Sestak misled him – and other voters – by running as a fiscal conservative. Welch campaign manager Peter Towey also criticized the Obama hit, calling it a “half truth” since Welch voted for John McCain in the 2008 general election.
Shown Sestak’s response, Burns’ campaign dismissed the inaccuracy in its literature.
“Welch had Sestak in his home to meet with friends of his. The semantics of whether it was a fundraiser or not is just that, semantics,” said Burns campaign manager Tim Kelly. “It’s funny that Steve Welch can’t dispute one substantive item in the mail piece – because he is an Obama and Sestak supporting liberal.”
Challenged on the Sestak issue during a debate Friday night, Welch mentioned another reason to explain his support for the Democrat: the ethics cloud that hung over Rep. Curt Weldon, Sestak’s opponent in 2006.
“Curt Weldon went to Congress as an ordinary American, and he come out a rich American. Literally a month before his election the FBI raided his home. He was under investigation for corruption. I don’t believe corruption can be accepted whether Republican or Democrat.”
Welch said he changed his registration as a protest.
Weldon is no conservative icon. In February 2004, two and a half years before Welch contributed $300 to Sestak’s campaign, the Los Angeles Times reported that Weldon’s daughter Karen was getting lucrative government contracts on areas that overlapped with his work in Congress.
“Weldon has brought his daughter so deeply into his official activities that they sometimes appear to be working in tandem,” the paper wrote. Those ethical issues ultimately resulted in an FBI raid of Weldon’s daughter’s home – and headlines that put the nail in the coffin of his re-election effort.
To date, no charges have been filed against Weldon or his daughter.
In addition to the ethics issues, he represents a way of thinking among establishment Republicans on issues like earmarks that his since gone out of vogue, radically. (Take, for example, this RedState article on a floor argument between Weldon and Rep. Jeff Flake).
Does it Matter?
In the short term, the answer is a probable no. Several sources now indicate that the southeast Pa. caucus is falling in line with Corbett and will support Welch, meaning that it’s fairly likely that he will emerge with an endorsement.
In the long term, the answer is almost definitely. Burns has all but said he would drop out of the race if state committee endorses another candidate. But there are other candidates who have vowed to stay in until primary day. Former State Rep. and 2010 gubernatorial candidate Sam Rohrer has a loyal base of supporters who despise party endorsements.
Former coal company owner Tom Smith has already invested $5 million into his campaign. If Welch stays in through primary day against such a well-funded opponent, it’s only a matter of time until his primary vote for Obama makes its way into a brutal, Specter-switch-style attack ad like Sestak used in 2010.
And talking to party loyalists, that’s not even the worst part. Dyed-in-wool Republicans who comprise most of GOP primary super-voters can’t even conceive of changing their registration. Welch’s 2005 switch to the Democratic party, however intentioned, doesn’t go over well.
Not to mention, some of the voters he’s courting like Curt Weldon.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the Los Angeles Times as being written in February 2010. It was published in Feb. 2004. Welch’s campaign contribution to Sestak came in 2006.