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Update: Burns Wins Southwest Caucus, and Northwest

By Keegan Gibson, Managing Editor

Update: Did anyone tell state committee members that Governor Corbett endorsed Steve Welch? Burns won the northwest caucus today, while Welch ends the day third place.

NWPA results:

Burns: 14
Smith: 11
Welch: 4
Rohrer: 2
Scaringi: 2

It amounts to a very good day for Burns, who also won the southwest caucus straw poll (read below). In the Auditor race, Maher beat Pinto 21-11. For those of you keeping score at home, here is total vote score of all caucus to date (note: the southeast caucus did not hold a vote):

Burns: 72
Smith: 57
Welch: 44
Rohrer: 37
Christian: 7
Scaringi: 7

Mars — He needed a win, and he got it. Washington County businessman Tim Burns finished on top of the straw poll of southwestern Pa. state committee members during their meeting Saturday morning.

It’s an important victory for Burns, who is jockeying with Chester County entrepreneur Steve Welch for the support of state committee as a whole for the U.S. Senate endorsement. He also won the central caucus straw poll.

“I am very grateful to have the support of our Southwest Caucus,” said Burns in a statement. “I got into this race because I believe that we must nominate a determined, principled Republican to defeat Bob Casey and Barack Obama – not a convenient conservative. I’m encouraged by the fact that our leaders in the Southwest – and across the state – agree.”

Burns met most of the delegation during his 2010 run for Congress against Mark Critz. He notes that in district with just 28 percent Republican voter registration, he pulled 49.5 percent of the vote in November 2010.

The results were Burns,18; Tom Smith, 13; Sam Rohrer, 9; Welch, 8; Marc Scaringi, 1.

As he has for much of the past few weeks, Burns opened his remarks by targeting Welch’s 2005 switch to the Democratic party. While that approach did not win support after last night’s GOP debate in Murrysville, it carried more weight in a room of long-serving party activists and GOP loyalists.

Smith is a former coal company owner from Armstrong County, also part of the southwest caucus; Rohrer is a former state Rep. who ran for Governor in 2010; and Scaringi is an attorney in the Harrisburg area who formerly worked for Sen. Rick Santorum.

Burns needs to show support among committee members who, in order to endorse him or vote for an open primary, must go against the will of the Governor.

Welch earned the official endorsement of Governor Tom Corbett Friday night, after several days of soft support. But Cotbett’s popularity in his home caucus – he is a southwestern Pa. native – didn’t translate into momentum Saturday. It’s the second caucus meeting since Corbett’s decision to back Welch, and the second time that the Governor’s support brought Welch little direct benefit (for reasons tangentially related to Welch, the southeast caucus declined to vote).

But Allegheny County GOP Chairman Jim Roddey said it was premature to draw conclusions about the Governor’s impact or Welch’s candidacy.

“What you didn’t see in the voting here, which you will see in Harrisburg, is what’s your second choice. We don’t have anyone who is likely to get a majority [on the first ballot],” Roddey said.

In an endorsement vote, the lowest vote-getter drops from the ballot after each round of voting until a candidate had 50 percent plus one.

He predicted that people would vote their heart and/or commitments for the first ballot at state committee, but would side with the Governor thereafter.

Welch’s team agreed. Campaign Manager Peter Towey noted that Burns and Smith are each local to the southwest caucus, and that Sam Rohrer maintains supporters from his 2010 gubernatorial campaign.

“We’re still introducing Steve to the state,” Towey said. “The vote that really matters is next week.”

On top of those considerations, weather was a factor. Snow and sleet left roads icy and unplowed prior to the 8am meeting. 50 of the approximately 65 southwestern committee members were represented, but at least a third of those were proxies. Supporters of each campaign told PoliticsPA that other supporters weren’t able to make it because of the conditions.

The committee also voted, by a margin of 27 to 22, against making an endorsement in the race. The arguments for and against have played out across the state. Those in favor say that there are too many candidates with too little name ID, and that an endorsement would help voters to know who’s who. Those against say that the process should be left to primary voters, not party leaders.

Republicans will meet in Hershey on January 28 for their endorsement meeting to determine who they think would be the strongest nominee against Sen. Bob Casey. Most observers expect the committee to make an endorsement, although several members have said that the idea of an open primary is more popular in this race than in any they had ever seen.

An endorsement would be a bonus for Smith, but is not a priority. Rohrer and Scaringi are actively lobbying for an open primary. All three have said they will remain in the race regardless of the committee’s decision; Burns and Welch have each said they are varying degrees of unlikely to run against an endorsement.

David Christian, a businessman and veterans’ advocate from Bucks County, was not present Saturday morning.

No candidates were present as the results were announced; they had left for the northwest caucus meeting in Clarion, Pa.

In the Auditor General race, the only other contended primary, Allegheny County’s John Maher, a state Rep., won in a rout; he defeated former Pa. Community Bankers CEO Frank Pinto by a margin of 45-4. Pinto says he will remain in the race until primary day, regardless of the committee’s decision.

7 Responses

  1. After GWB, McCain, and the persistent state of chaos that exists within the Republican Party in PA (remember Lynn Swan and Jim Mathews?!)my mantra has become: “If the Party endorses them I won’t vote for them.”
    May the best man not receive the Party’s endorsement.

  2. Judy, I heard Pinto made some good points against Maher – that Maher voted for his own pay raise, his own pension increase and also that he is running for TWO offices simultaneously, while also supposed to be doing his job which is taxpayer funded. That is not going to sit well with the people across PA. I strongly believe the role of Auditor General cannot be hand-picked by the Governor. How is that person supposed to then challenge all of the wasteful spending in Harrisburg??

  3. All candidates were given three minutes. Then they made Q & A available with about a 10 min. limit. All were treated the same. I was there.

  4. I’m hearing that Christian would have embarassed Welch in the SE so they called in Gleason to stop a vote. Classy.

  5. The governor’s endorsement of Welch is a disgrace. If state committee scrutinized all of his other hand-picked team, especially Maher, the governor might be 0 for 4. Not a good day for the GOP leader.

  6. I heard Pinto was given only three minutes to make his case at the SW caucus. Somehow, with no time, he convinced four people to vote for him. Can you imagine if he was given an hour? — He’d get 80 votes.

  7. Welch no way The Governor is clearly getting bad political advice. The guy posters love to hate is way samrter than a Welch plan. What idiots have Corbett’s ear now? Corbett’s reputation is harmed by the Welch play As a proud Corbett supporter I am sorry to see a great Governor who is doing a great job be so harmed by bad advice on the Welch thing

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