The invisible race - LancasterOnline: Editorials

The invisible race

Intelligencer Journal: In Our View

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Posted: Friday, April 20, 2012 4:27 am | Updated: 6:59 pm, Thu Sep 12, 2013.

Rick Santorum's withdrawal from the Republican presidential campaign has rendered Pennsylvania's GOP presidential primary all but moot.

With a substantial delegate lead and only Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, as challengers, Mitt Romney would seem to have the state primary and the party nomination firmly in hand.

Nevertheless, the attention paid to the presidential primary has all but obscured an election that will have a far greater impact on individual Pennsylvanians.

That is Pennsylvania's U.S. Senate primary where five Republicans are campaigning to unseat Democratic Sen. Robert Casey in the fall.

Rarely has a campaign of such significance been so invisible.

Of the five candidates, David Alan Christian of Washington Crossing and Marc Scaringi of Camp Hill lack the financing and campaign organization to win. That leaves party-endorsed candidate Steve Welch, upstart Tom Smith and former state Rep. Sam Rohrer vying for the right to face Casey.

And for a campaign that has flown under the radar for months, it is suddenly getting nasty.

Welch was Gov. Tom Corbett's choice. As the endorsed candidate, he was afforded time at Tuesday's Republican gathering at the Lancaster County Convention Center. Whether that exposure helps his foundering campaign remains to be seen. Despite earning the endorsement of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette as well as that of 35 state lawmakers and 26 county commissioners, Welch finds himself the underdog in the race.

Part of that is due to his flirtation with the Democratic Party. Between 2005 and 2009, Welch was a registered Democrat. Some in the party dislike that affiliation and contend Corbett forced Welch on them.

Furthermore, Welch has been outspent by nearly four-to-one by Smith, who has committed as much as $5 million of his own money to win the nomination.

Smith asserts that he has "been a strong conservative all my life."

But a series of ads sponsored by Freedom Fund for America's Future that backs Welch, points out that Smith was a registered Democrat for more than four decades before becoming a Republican in 2011.

The fallout from the who-is-the-real-Republican fight would seem to benefit Rohrer, an 18-year House member veteran and Berks County native whose conservative bona fides are unquestioned.

Rohrer is a likely choice of Lancaster Countians. He outpolled Gov. Tom Corbett in Lancaster County in the 2010 gubernatorial primary and has statewide name recognition.

But a number of experts contend Rohrer's vote for the 2001 pension hike and the 2005 legislative pay raise means he cannot win.

Welch's campaign staff contends that Smith's record of raising taxes when he was a township official and his long affiliation with the Democratic Party means he could not defeat Casey in November.

Smith's campaign contends Welch's vote for Obama in 2008 is a non-starter for Republicans.

Republican voters will have to determine which of the candidiates is the "real" Republican.

For a race that has flown under the radar, the result could reveal a great deal about how Pennsylvanians will vote in November.