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GOP Senate Hopefuls Debate in Delco

From left to right: Cummings, Welch, Kensinger, Rohrer, Scaringi. Photo credit: Ali Carey.

By Ali Carey, Contributing Writer

Newtown Square — Five GOP Senate hopefuls took questions on Thursday night from members of the Delaware County Patriots tea party.

It’s the biggest event yet in a race with nearly a dozen prospective Republican challengers to incumbent U.S. Senator Bob Casey, and the first event to feature two of the race’s top tier candidates: Steve Welch and Sam Rohrer.

Scranton-area tea party activist Laureen Cummings, Bedford pharmacist and one-time 2010 candidate John Kesinger, Harrisburg-area attorney and former Santorum staffer Marc Scaringi, and Welch, an entrepreneur and former congressional candidate attended as planned.

Making a surprise appearance was Rohrer, whose spokesperson had earlier indicated that he would miss the event. After months of hinting, the former PA state legislator from Berks County and a 2010 gubernatorial candidate will officially announce his candidacy in a town hall meeting on Monday.  He recently stepped down as the PA State Director of Americans for Prosperity to declare his candidacy.

About 150 people came to hear the debate, which lasted about 2 hours. It was the first meeting of several of the candidates, and the second official forum event of the campaign. The first, held in September near Pittsburgh, featured only Scaringi and retired Colonel John Vernon.

Moderator Kevin Kelly, a Republican entrepreneur from Philadelphia and a former fighter-pilot., told the candidates to adhere to a four sentence rule: after four sentences the candidates could only keep talking if the audience appeared interested in hearing more.

The economy was the first issue the candidates tackled, which sparked a conversation about Keynesian, Hayek and Austrian School theories of economics.

Welch underscored that the federal government needs to take lessons from the failed economies of other nations and from the private sector.

“We’re witnessing western sovereign democracies fall apart.  What you’re seeing in Greece, we’re not far behind.  We’re about to see Spain and Italy fall apart at the seams and I think that’s important to this election,” said Welch.

On economic philosophy Welch described himself as fundamentally a decentralist.  He touted his experience in his first company “beating the crap out of GE,” as an example of small businesses being “the engine that’s driving this country.”

Experiencing the effects of the tough economy first-hand is what motivated Cummings to run for public office.

“I got involved in politics because it affected me, my patients and my family.  I watched patients go from having a large sum of money in the bank to nothing and ending up going into a nursing home for medical assistance patients,” she said.

Kensinger who has no advisers and takes credit for everything on his website, “typos and all” received a warm applause when he quoted American founding father James Madison and the original intentions of the separation of church and state.  He criticized the government for eliminating moral and Christian values.

“We’ve had an erosion of Christian values in the United States,” said Kensigner.

The candidates agreed on the issues Kelly presented for the most part. The audience question and answer segment revealed some of the candidates’ conflicting positions.

On the subject of term limits, Kensinger, Scaringi and Welch all said they would support South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint’s Term Limit’s for All Constitutional Amendment which would impose term limits on all members of Congress (3 terms in the House, 2 in the Senate).

Cummings and Rohrer said they would oppose the amendment.

Scaringi talked about the the dangers of going to Washington with the intention of building a career there.  He believes being in Washington for too long can make you feel important and it can impact your ability to serve.

“I don’t want to stay there forever.  I want to come home to my wife and my family and my business and my neighbors and my church and my community.  That’s where my heart is and where I want to be. This is something that I do reluctantly.  I look at this as a duty that I have to do because of the crisis confronting our country,” he said.

Although Rohrer acknowledged Scaringi’s explanation for term limits, the former nine-term state Rep. said he does not believe that a constitutional amendment is the answer to every problem that we have.

“I don’t believe our founders built into the system term limits.  In fact they didn’t.  They called them elections,” said Rohrer.

Rohrer went on to say that the balance of power was “messed up” when the Senate positions were changed from being appointed to publicly elected.

“The public made a lot changes last year in Congress, but it didn’t require a term limit to do that.  What it did require was an activated citizen base who understood what was at stake,” said Rohrer.

When asked how they would defeat Casey, Welch emphasized that the Senator has voted with the President 98 percent of the time.  He said that Pa. Republicans need a candidate who has the necessary funds and can deliver their message.

Welch avoided any serious confrontations about his brief switch to the Democratic Party and 2008 primary vote for Barack Obama. He volunteered an explanation, saying it was a “protest” of the Republican party but that he voted for John McCain in the general election.

An audience member asked Welch about his other foray into Democratic politics: his $300 contribution to Joe Sestak’s 2006 congressional race – a sore subject in a room full of people who voted for Curt Weldon.

“Joe Sestak sat in my house and talked about being a fiscally conservative individual.  In 2006 that was his scheme.  You’ll remember that’s what he ran on, but he clearly was not and so I was the first one who stood up and said, ‘I’m going to run against Joe Sestak,’” which he did, briefly, last cycle.

Although she wouldn’t name a winner, Delco Patriots organizer Scheerer was encouraged by the debate and she is looking forward to covering the candidates further.

Commenting on the breadth of informed questions the crowd asked, Scheerer said:

“That’s why we’re members and that’s why we came.  We’re informed and interested.”

How They Did

Rohrer’s political ascension coincided with the rise of the tea party movement, and has maintained his talent for talking to them. He was comfortable with the crowd tonight and presented himself well, though he frequently pushed the limits of the four sentence rule.

Welch had the most to lose Thursday night, but he proved that he can speak the language of tea party activists and is comfortable with their issues. His answers were concise and on point. He has the explanation for his party switch down, and it seemed to assuage the audience.

Scaringi held his own in the debate, and his nearly 12 months of campaigning have served him well.  However, given his fundraising stagnation, appearances like this are likely to be the only campaign tools he has. He didn’t deliver a standout performance.

Cummings and Kensinger may have been the most ideologically in sync with the audience, but they were mostly overlooked in the question and answer session. They did not distinguish themselves on Thursday.

Rohrer and Welch won the night.

Keegan Gibson contributed to this report.

16 Responses

  1. Rohrer Authored the Educational Improvement Tax Credit which is now used nation wide.

    He also developed the School Property Tax Elimination Act HB1275 and even got it approved by Moody’s, th only bill of its kind to pass THAT test. Unfortunately elimination of the property tax and changing how schools were funded did not fit into the plans of special interests like the PSEA and the Casinos, both of which who had big pockets for legislators.

    IF Schools Board lost their taxing authority it would disarm teachers strikes, and make it impossible to muscle local school board into tax increases topay for their higher benefits, salaries etc. Those smaller classes by the way were not for the childrens benefit, it was to maintain staff levels when enrollment was dropping.

    Wasn’t the public screaming to prevent casinos from being brought to Pennsylvania? What was the excuse Rendell. Perzell, Deweese and Pileggi using to overcome that objection…”PROPERTY TAX RELIEF”….The biggest property tax cut in PA history”. Rohrers Moody’s approved bill was stuck in Appropriations due to Perzell at the same time Citizens voted down ACT 1, teh tax increase in disguise.

    Rohrer, Schroder, and Cox and 3 other REpublicans teamed with DEMs to force the corrupt Perzell out of the Speakers slot..and put another REpubican in his slot instead. Perzell wnet after Rohrer and Schroder with Robo calls in ther next campaign, was discovered and that opend a legal can of worms and the prison door for him.

    Rohrer has the backing of 70+ taxpayer groups statewide on his elimination efforts because it is the right thing to do.

    IAround April 1, Cox will reintroduce it again under a new name and number…HB 1776, Property TAx Independence Act. Why is not hte Delco Patriots on board? IS it too contitutional? Does it get too much Government out of the way? Does it provide too much Freedom and liberty from Government control?

    Rohrer alone is a visionary and has developed key legislation that NO others have even tried to do. He has developed alternate budgets and forced Harrisburg to rethink themselves and make further cuts.

    Why does someone have to go to Washington to PASS laws and expand Govt control? That is a Democrats purpose. HAving someone there to protect our Freedom and who has studied and understands the thought process of our Forefather ion teh 1776 timeframe is EXACTLY who we need there right now. ROHRER is WALKING THE WALK and has been for 18 years.

  2. Rohrer’s legislative pass record is poor indeed. He could easily have written legislation that would pass, but he had to go and write that which passed the constitutionality test instead. The nerve. He knew darn well constitutionality and embedded interests don’t mesh! Dumb dumb!! How was he going to get legislation passed when working against embedded interests!?! Everyone knows you have to go with the flow and get the legislation passed!!! Doesn’t matter what’s in it. Just GET IT PASSED!!!!!

    And as for his power? Yeah…he just left his power sitting idle. What the heck? Why didn’t he FORCE those other legislators to pass his legislation!? And don’t even get me started about all the unconstitutional legislation he blocked! Were it not for him, some of our favorite career politicians would have a better pass record too!! Thanks a lot Sam Rohrer!!! Rohrer just would not get out of the way! Nope…he had to keep writing legislation that was “right and good” and kept voting for what was Constitutional!!! More than 70,000 times!!! He’s probably gonna go down there to D.C. and do the same thing!!

  3. Maria – maybe you should re-read the Constitution as it doesn’t say anything anywhere about the pursuit of happiness. Perhaps you’re thinking of the Declaration of Independence? Seems Ms. Cummings isn’t doing that good of a job educating you folks.

  4. Good points above. Casey will not be defeated in 2012 by a candidate running further right than Atilla the Hun. We need to practice political pragmatism here. A sensible moderate beats Casey. These candidates get buried by about 30 points.

  5. Bob Casey needs to be replaced in 2012. Unfortunately, none of these candidates have a chance. Pennsylvania is a moderate state and in a presidential year, a larger turnout will favor centrist candidates. These Senate candidates sound like they are better suited to run statewide in Idaho or Alabama rather than Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, it looks like Bob Casey will get to hang around DC collecting dust for another six years.

  6. Friends, what I know, living in Leftist North Eastern Pa., Laureen Cummings, for the last 4 years, has worked like no other person I’ve ever met…….to fight for us”the people”!! She is responsible for getting citizens educated, energized and enthusiastic over our God given rights, liberties and our pursuit of happiness, stated in our Constitution. Laureen has helped tremendously in waking up the electorate!!! She is honest, hard working, a fighter, and a doer. I can’t imagine supporting anyone, but the REAL Tea Party Leader……..Laureen Cummings, I suggest you check her website and her views;

  7. How can they state that Laureen is 1 of the 2(John) “…most ideologically in sync with the audience,…” and then state “…They did not distinguish themselves…” ?!?!?! We need to replace the career politicians with Statesmen/women like the founders were and Laureen is! We The People need to replace everyone with fresh blood and if they become career politicians (corrupted) then let the “Specter Term Limits – ELECTIONS” take effect; as Katy Abram was told when she questioned Arlan about Term Limits!!!

  8. Judy you need to really look into Sam’s 18 year record.
    Don’t believe the left wing blogs. Check his records you
    will change your mind. Sam is the right candidate.

  9. Folks – one mistake voters make is they go to debates and townhalls and listen to what the candidates say. The voter needs to check their history and record of what they have done or not done.

  10. Sorry Adam, Sam talks the talk but he doesn’t walk the walk. He never got a single one of his bills passed while in Harrisburg. If he couldn’t use the power of his office to get things done while in the statehouse he won’t do it id DC. Besides he voted for the payraise and pensions. He’s a nice guy. Maybe too nice.

    Welch – is he a Republican or a democrat. Don’t think he can make up his mind on that. Maybe just another Specter which we don’t need.

  11. Per “Ghost” post, I’m also intrigued when a reporter focuses on the ability to “speak the language,” whether it’s in reference to aligning with tea party or other politicos, no matter the political affiliation.

    Being able to hold a good, solid conversation that’s on topic and relevant to the distresses of the American voter is important, but more so is the ability to “walk the walk” rather than just “talk the talk.”

    Of the five candidates looking for the GOP nomination who attended last night’s event, only Scaringi has been doing just that, coming out of private life (and the earliest too, a YEAR ago), feeling compelled/driven to actually want to make a difference, without benefit of lots of funding or name recognition. I’m not necessarily faulting the better-known names of Rohrer or Welch in wanting to get in the race (although Welch doesn’t really have name recognition either outside his region, and most notably for his party flip-flopping, regardless of how he tries to explain that away), but it’s their monied situation that right now carries their credentials, in large part — not entirely, but in large part, and that’s seems to be the biggest value that the media is trying to influence the public with: how big is the war chest in comparison to Casey’s?

    The money is the sticking point for every political race today, and that’s a shame because that’s what gets the ink (or not) for any candidate and how they are looked at (or not) — how much money do they have, how much are they raising, how much are they perceived a winner or loser because of their campaign checkbook. That’s part of the problem with Rohrer’s disengagement with term limits; he’s been around the block enough to know that our political system these days is more about getting elected over and over to keep the networking/fundraising train chugging along. It’s the only way to build enough money to keep getting elected. I don’t buy the argument that he uses with regard to our country’s founders/term limits. After all, they were farmers, writers, businessmen…people who had regular jobs — time-consuming jobs and responsibilities — just like the voting public. I don’t think they were concerned with being politicians for life.

    For those who truly want a candidate for all seasons, I’d encourage you to get to one of these speaking events and listen to Scaringi. He’s a guy who is more like the voting population, a true “citizen” legislator, like our founders, who wants what the public needs, and that’s a fair, voter-centric, constitutional form of government for all.

  12. I’ve always been a bit mystified why any moderate, independent voter would find the Tea Party priorities political poison. It makes no sense to me.

    On a broad scale, the coalition espouses support for the Constitution, individual liberty, less onerous regulations, lower taxes, spending that doesn’t exceed revenue, and, of course, repealing and replacing government-centric ObamaCare.

    The Tea Party also opposes corporate bailouts and corporate cronyism while endorsing the risk/reward capitalism that has made this the greatest country in the world.

    Do those who malign Tea Party principles really hold the opposing view on those issues?

    I realize liberals in and out of the media have demonized the Tea Party (even as they have lionized the mobs currently “occupying” cities around the country), but I urge those who think for themselves to do just that as we consider who best to serve us in political office.

  13. Thanks for the story about this important event. It’s interesting what you say about how Welch proving ” he can speak the language of tea party activists” since doing so makes him–and the others–utterly unelectable against Bob Casey Jr. The GOP needs a moderate centrist in the mold of John Heinz. Not a Jim DeMint clone.

  • Who are you voting for in the PA Supreme Court race?

    • Dan McCaffery (61%)
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