By Frank Filkosky, Contributing Writer
Altoona — Four Republican U.S. Senate hopefuls met Thursday night to meet, greet, and take questions from the Blair County Republican Women.
Speaking in front of a largely Tea Party-leaning audience of about 75, the candidates discussed a variety of policy issues from health care, to taxes, to man each of them hopes to face: incumbent Senator Bob Casey.
From the top tier of the race were Tom Smith, a coal industry veteran and former Tea Party leader from Armstrong County and Steve Welch, a Chester County entrepreneur who ran for congress in 2010. It was the first time that those candidates faced off.
Also speaking were Laureen Cummings, co-founder of the Scranton Tea Party; and John Kensigner, a Bedford County pharmacist.
It was a forum, rather than a debate, and it did not include Harrisburg area attorney Marc Scaringi or Tioga County veteran John Vernon because they had spoken to the group previously. Other candidates were invited but unable to attend.
Moderator and BCRW President Lois Kaneshiki started off the emotionally charged debate with her opening remarks exclaiming, “We must make Pennsylvania a red state. We must make Obama a one term President. We also must make Bob Casey a one term Senator! And that starts here.”
One of the major topics of discussion and the first question dealt with the repeal of ‘Obamacare,’ the recently passed health care law. All four of the candidates strongly encouraged repeal. Welch drew applause with his description of a system focused on decentralization.
Cummings, who throughout the night was a crowd favorite, drew boisterous applause on the issue of education.
“I believe the Department of Education should be abolished and [education] needs to be run by the states,” she said.
“The more we empower our local communities to run our schools the more they feel ownership in that and the more the community is engaged,” said Welch.
Tax reforms and spending control were other areas of discussion.
“Personally, I favor a flat tax of 15 percent for all Americans,” said Kensinger.
Smith called the current tax system, “absolute insanity,” and added, “we have to reduce the corporate tax the federal government has. Growth is the key!”
Smith was the only candidate who had the opportunity to respond to the possible candidacy of State Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi. He dismissed the impact that such an announcement would have, saying, “He’s just another seat at this table. Just another hat in the ring.”
How They Did
Cummings, in sync with the conservative audience, got the best reception and most frequent applause.
Kensinger sounded much more impressive than just an also-ran Thursday night. He confidently and competently articulated his conservative positions on tax policy.
Smith did fairly well, but his first-time candidate status showed through a few times. He deferred on a question about the supercommittee and had a few other trips. He did much better during the meet and greet prior to the event.
Welch’s previous time on the stump is apparent. Comfortable with the issues, he also scored several applause lines. Welch followed his success at a similar event in Delaware County two weeks ago with another strong performance.
Welch and Cummings won the night.