By Keegan Gibson, Managing Editor
Hershey — As the seven Republican candidates for U.S. Senate debated at the Hershey Lodge on Friday night, Governor Tom Corbett summoned committee members to the hallway one-by-one to lock down their support for his endorsed candidate: Steve Welch.
In a pair of high-backed chairs in the hallway of the Lodge, Corbett made his case for the endorsement, several sources relayed to PoliticsPA.
He reportedly said that the outcome would affect the reputation of state committee as well as his own. He also made the case for a geographically balanced ticket: Welch from the southeast, Dave Freed from south central, and John Maher and Diana Irey from the southwest.
Many of the committee members he spoke to were from the southwestern caucus, Corbett’s home base, but had expressed hesitation toward making an endorsement – or even supported another candidate – in last week’s caucus meeting.
Brian Nutt is a spokesman for Corbett. His firm, BrabenderCox, counts Welch as a client. Nutt said the Governor was thanking committee members rather than lobbying them, acknowledging that there were making tough votes.
Others argued that the Governor’s mere presence in the hallway, let alone the fact that he was personally whipping votes, bodes ill for Welch, a Chester County entrepreneur.
If the votes were there, they ask, why go to the trouble?
Indeed, most committee members criticized Corbett’s handling of the race and characterized the last-minute push as the consequence of an unforced error – namely, the lateness of his endorsement.
As a result, a race that had been far from the top of the Governor’s radar a month ago has emerged as a test of his clout.
Corbett declined comment when approached by PoliticsPA.
State of Play
The question of whether to endorse appears to be settled: it takes 50 percent of members to say no, meaning that in order to have a chance of failing, supporters of Burns and Tom Smith’s would have to vote against it. There is zero indication that either campaign has made any effort to do so. Indeed, Burns’ campaign distributed a letter reiterating his intent to fight all the way through the meeting.
Welch appears posed to win the endorsement. Earlier in the evening, the PAGOP’s Leadership Committee nominated and endorsed Welch – all within 2 minutes – as the Governor looked on.
Corbett’s team made their way into the bar at the Hershey Lodge late into the night projecting a sense of mission accomplished. They mingled with Tim Burns’ team, which seemed committed to the fight but resigned to its likely outcome. Burns and Welch have been tangling for weeks to win the endorsement.
People have a variety of predictions, but the general sense is that Welch will take it within 4 ballots (the lowest vote-getter is knocked off after each ballot until one candidate gets 50 percent plus one). A few predict it will happen on the first ballot, skeptics say 6.
The southeast delegation was evidently not as sewn up as PoliticsPA reported Thursday, but it is now. The Montgomery County delegation huddled for over an hour after the debate ended to discuss strategy, with Chairman Bob Kerns asking members to vote for Welch. The thinking went, according to a few who were in the huddle, that they stood to gain little from opposing Corbett and that it wasn’t worth trying given the fact that Welch was likely to pull through anyway.
Over in Bucks County, word is that native son David Christian, a businessman and veterans’ advocate, won’t even get their votes in the first ballot.
Meanwhile other members, partly in response to the intense scrutiny the vote will earn them on the floor Saturday morning, are prepared to take their medicine and back Welch.
Burns is a businessman from Washington County; Smith is a businessman from Armstrong County. Also contending are Sam Rohrer, a former State Rep. from Berks County; Marc Scaringi, an attorney from Cumberland County; and John Kensinger, a pharmacist from Bedford County. The latter three oppose a committee endorsement.