Welch Takes Lumps at PLC Senate Debate
Rohrer Wins Straw Poll
Here is the straw poll tally:
Sam Rohrer: 176
Tom Smith: 60
Steve Welch: 19
Marc Scaringi: 10
David Christian: 8
Camp Hill — The audience responded favorably to most of Steve Welch’s answers at the U.S. Senate debate during the Pa. Leadership Conference. But the biggest crowd reactions came when his opponents – primarily Marc Scaringi – criticized the Chester County entrepreneur for his party switch and Obama vote.
“Like Steve Welch, Senator Casey voted for Barack Obama in 2008,” said Scaringi, an attorney from Cumberland County, to loud audience applause and half a standing ovation.
Welch responded as he has many times on the campaign trail so far, that he changed his registration from R to D in 2005 and voted for Barack Obama in the 2008 primary believing him to be the lesser of two evils. He said his story would resonate with wayward Republicans.
“I strayed, and it was a mistake. If I had it to do over again, trust me I would fight like every one of you to change the party from within. I can’t do that, but I do believe in redemption. Part of redemption is working hard to get rid of your mistakes.”
He later noted that he took a leave of absence from his job in 2010 in order to campaign for Pat Toomey.
But Scaringi wasn’t done.
“Steve, in 2008 you voted for Barack Obama for president, yes or no?” he asked Welch in his rebuttal.
After a pause, during which a few audience members shouted “Yes!” and the moderator discouraged further back-and-forth, Welch responded:
“I voted for John McCain.”
Pa. Leadership Conference
The PLC is an annual gathering of Pa. conservatives and grassroots. The one thing that this wide spectrum of activists has in common is their distrust of the GOP party organization and the perceived top-down nature of endorsements. Earlier Saturday morning, PLC panelists drew cheers when they suggested the entire party structure should be cast aside.
Among this crowd, Welch’s endorsement from the Pa. GOP state committee (or anyone’s) draws far more boos than cheers.
After Scaringi’s direct frontal attack, David Christian, a veterans advocate and businessman from Bucks County, struck a chord with the anti-establishment crowd. He indicted Welch over the PAGOP’s effort – since abandoned – to knock Christian off the ballot.
“Why didn’t Steve Welch go to the Governor and say this is frivolous? We should not be targeting one of our own,” he bellowed. “Leadership begins in our own ranks.”
The ballot challenge was initiated by the Pa. Republican Party with no direct relation to the Welch campaign.
Afterward Welch played down the shots his opponents took during the debate, saying people are looking for leadership rather than pot shots.
“There’s nothing new there. Nothing new,” Welch said. “I’ve been up front about my partisan part. If anything, I’ve blatantly gone out of my way to make sure people have heard it.”
How They Did
Other than the Welch-related fireworks, the event was fairly similar to the numerous debates and forums in the race so far. The candidates basically agreed on every issue.
Five Republicans are vying to defeat Sen. Bob Casey.
Scaringi probably turned in the best performance. In addition for being the boldest candidate vis-a-vis Welch, he delivered the most passionate single answer during the event.
“Senator Casey voted to bail out big labor. Senator Casey voted to continue funding for ACORN. Senator Casey voted to protect – continue funding for Planned Parenthood. The country is bankrupt. We can’t pay our own bills, yet Senator Casey find a couple hundred million dollars to give to Planned Parenthood,” Scaringi boomed as he reached a crescendo.
“This Obama-Casey agenda has bankrupted our country. It has destroyed our freedoms and our liberties. And the American people know it, and are demanding change.”
Welch was rattled by the Scaringi attack, but for the most part he was his wonkish self. He was the best candidate at weaving his bio and business background into his campaign narrative, and came across as knowledgeable. He scored a good laugh from a zinger against Casey.
“His big claim to fame was that he was going to be an independent voice for the people Pennsylvania. This a guy that has voted with the President 98 percent of the time. That is really hard to do,” he said.
“I challenge those of you in the crowd that are here with your spouse, over the next couple of weeks, start keeping track of how often you agree or disagree with your spouse. I suspect for many of you, it will be more than 2 percent of the time.”
Tom Smith, a former coal company owner from Armstrong County, had highs and lows. He succeeded in engaging the audience during an answer about how to beat Casey.
“I would like to ask the crowd right now: who would like to see Obamacare repealed?” he asked to applause. “Let me ask the crowd one more question. The President, in complete agreement with Senator Casey, will not allow us to drill in ANWR, he will not allow us to drill off shore, and he has an all out war on coal. Do you agree with that?”
No! The audience responded.
But when asked to say what constitutes victory in the War on Terror, his response seemed more stream of consciousness than candidate.
“Just hypothetically, what if the rest of the Senate and the House and the President decided we should go into a certain country and I wasn’t completely sure but they were?” he said “That is where I guarantee you, I would get behind our troops, I would get behind that decision and we figure out, we have that mission laid out right in advance, and we go full bore.”
David Christian also had some high points in the debate, including a few laugh lines.
“When Bob Casey was elected, 40 percent of the people thought they were voting for his father. Some of the people don’t even know who he is, or what he looks like,” Christian said. “I think Bob Casey’s never had a job that his father didn’t help get him, in politics.”
“We sent a robot to Washington, DC.”
Sam Rohrer, a former state rep. from Berks County, didn’t need to throw any punches at his GOP opponents; this is his home crowd. These are the activists who fueled his 2010 campaign for Governor, he knows most of them by name, and he has long received a warm welcome at PLC (like last year). He stuck to the Constitution and his faith.
“Bob has not done what he said he would do. When he ran, he said he was going to be pro-life like his father. He is not. You cannot vote for the elimination of the Mexico City policy, embryonic stem cell research, a vote for Obamacare which include abortion funding, and say you’re pro-life.”
In a straw poll conducted before the debate, Rohrer handily carried his crowd.