By Keegan Gibson, Managing Editor
Steve Welch is running for for U.S. Senate. The Chester County entrepreneur, former congressional candidate and father of three announced today that he will seek the Republican nomination to take on Bob Casey.
“Candidly, I don’t think these guys in Washington have a clue how this economy works,” Welch said. “They pass bill after bill that have the unintended consequences of destroying jobs in this country, and as somebody that is an entrepreneur and an engineer, I think we need people down there that are really more interesting in the root cause of these problems and trying to offer real solutions.”
Welch, 35, has spent his career to date in business development. He sold his start-up company Mitos Group to Parker Hannifin in 2007. Shortly after, he co-founded DreamIt Ventures, a company that assists developing businesses.
He’s never held elected office, but has campaigned twice. In 2009, Welch announced a run for congress in the Delware County-based 7th district, but bowed out when Pat Meehan announced his intent to run. He switched to the 6th district race, but stepped aside when incumbent Rep. Jim Gerlach decided to seek re-election rather than take on front runner Tom Corbett in the gubernatorial primary.
He’s been on the trail for about two months already, including at the fall meeting of Republican State Committee whose endorsement he will seek. PoliticsPA broke the news in mid-September that his entry into the race was imminent.
He fits the mold of the personally wealthy candidate that Republican party leaders have sought – he contributed about $650,000 to his two congressional campaigns in 2010 – and has shown an early willingness to invest in this race as well.
He argued that his background – helping other companies to start and grow – distinguishes him from his primary opponents like coal industry veteran Tom Smith and Tim Burns, who built a pharmaceutical software company. Burns announced his candidacy yesterday.
“I’m an entrepreneur. I’m somebody that has built businesses,” Welch said. “In the last decade, I’ve helped create almost 70 businesses, most of which have been high tech, most have which highly scalable businesses that bring a tremendous amount of value.”
His opponents are less likely to talk about his resume than his voter registration. On day one of his candidacy, Welch is already facing his deepest liability: he voted for Barack Obama.
In 2006, he switched parties from Republican to Democrat. He contributed $300 to Joe Sestak’s campaign, and voted for Obama in the 2008 presidential primary (he says he voted for McCain in the general). He switched his registration back to Republican early in 2009.
The attacks have already begun. Smith’s campaign collected news reports on the subject and distributed them to reporters this morning. After news of Welch’s intentions broke in September, the campaign of Harrisburg-area attorney Marc Scaringi even cut a radio ad blasting him over the party issue. It was never aired.
It’s clear Welch knows it’s his biggest weakness, and correspondingly his answers to those questions are much more polished now than they were last month. In an interview this morning an announcement video released today, he blamed his party switch on a Republican party that had lost its way.
“Like alot of people, I was very frustrated with the Republican party in the early part of this century. The Republican party blew up the size of government in a way that didn’t fit with my views and values, or most of the Republican party’s,” he said.
He noted that he campaigned vigorously for Governor Tom Corbett and Senator Pat Toomey last fall, then transitioned to cite statistics about the size of government and national debt since Casey took office (he says the former has grown by 46 percent, the latter by 69 percent).
Welch’s campaign will be staffed by an all-star cast of political operatives, including two new names.
Rob Bickhart will step in as Finance Director. He raised millions of dollars for Rick Santorum’s campaigns, and currently works at the firm Cozen O’Conner. Bickhart is well connected among the state’s heavy-hitting GOP donors, especially in the Philadelphia area. He served briefly as FD for the Republican National Committee, but was fired after a controversial fundraising presentation was leaked to the press.
Jon Lerner will be the campaign’s pollster and strategist. He most recently worked for Sen. Pat Toomey, and before that helped to guide conservative Mike Lee to his primary victory over Sen. Bob Bennett. He is also currently advising Florida Senate hopeful George LeMieux.
Toomey’s 2010 Political Director Peter Towey has officially been named Campaign Manager.
Veteran media consultant John Brabender is on board. He cut ads for Gov. Corbett and former Senator Rick Santorum among numerous others. Corbett Campaign Manager Brian Nutt will be consulting on the race.
Welch joins what has become a crowded field of candidates to take on U.S. Senator Bob Casey.
Primary candidates in addition to Burns, Scaringi and Smith include: David Christian, a Bucks County veterans’ advocate; Laureen Cummings, a Scranton-area tea party activist; Bedford County pharmacist John Kensinger; and John Vernon, a retired U.S. Army colonel from Tioga County.
Former State Rep. and gubernatorial candidate Sam Rohrer of Berks County is also considering a bid.
Odds and ends:
Welch said without hesitation the current political figure he most admires is Pat Toomey.
Two issues he wants to tackle: simplifying the tax code and reforming education (less federal involvement, look at vouchers and charter schools).
On social issues, Welch says, “I’m pro-life. I believe marriage is between a man and a woman. I think the second amendment is critical. I’m a gun owner, I’ve hunted.”
And here’s the announcement video, from Welch’s newly revamped website: