Candidates, tea party leaders call on PA GOP to not endorse for U.S. Senate
State party will make decision Saturday
By Eric Boehm| PA Independent
HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania Republican voters should decide the best candidate to run against U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat, in November without the influence of the state Republican Party, according to some candidates and tea party leaders.
The state GOP will meet Saturday in Hershey to decide endorsements for the U.S. Senate race and a handful of other statewide races, including auditor general and attorney general. But some candidates in the wide-open Republican U.S. Senate primary race said the process would be better if the state party did not make an endorsement and instead allowed for a truly open primary election on April 24.
Sam Rohrer, a former state representative from Berks County, said it was in the best interest of the party and the people of Pennsylvania to allow voters to make the selection, not party delegates.
“Let the citizens of the state make the determination of who actually goes forward into the General Election against Bob Casey,” Rohrer said. “We need not be afraid of having a vigorous debate in the primary.”
While the primary election ultimately determines who will run against Casey, the state party endorsement is a major boon — in terms of name recognition, political machinery and fundraising — for the candidate who secures it. Typically, candidates who do not win the endorsement drop out of the race before the primary or at least face a serious disadvantage in the campaign.
The endorsement could be important this year in particular, because the GOP primary race is wide open. Seven candidates have declared and none of them hold an elected office.
Gov. Tom Corbett on Friday announced he would support Steve Welch, a Chester County businessman who is considered one of the front-runners.
Corbett figures to have considerable influence over the outcome of Saturday’s party endorsement decision.
Welch on Monday said he was focused on securing the state endorsement and had met with party officials and delegates in 50 counties.
“I trust their judgment about who can have the biggest positive impact on the state and the party,” he said, while also acknowledging that Corbett’s support was a significant boost for his campaign.
As for concerns that an endorsement would limit the voter’s say in the primary, Welch said he was not concerned.
“There is clearly going to be a primary at this point; the question is whether the state party is going to weigh in on the process,” he said.
At least three candidates — Rohrer, Marc Scaringi and Tom Smith — have said they will continue their campaigns regardless of the state GOP’s decision this weekend.
Casey won the endorsement of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party on Jan. 14.
Other candidates offered mixed reactions when asked Monday about the endorsement process.
Tim Burns, the Allegheny County businessman considered another front-runner for the endorsement, has said running in the primary would be difficult without the state party’s backing.
“Tim’s record is very competitive against any (in) the field, and we feel very good, very strong going into the weekend,” said Tim Kelly, Burns’ campaign manager. “We’ll see what happens and go from there.”
Scaringi, a Cumberland County lawyer, also is calling for an open primary process and no state party endorsement.
“Through the endorsement process, you end up with the state committee-approved candidate, but not necessarily the best candidate,” Scaringi cautioned Monday.
He said a growing percentage of the voting population is distrustful of both political parties, leaving the door open for non-endorsed candidate to win the primary election.
In a statement Monday, Smith, an Armstrong County resident and former head of several coal companies, said he also wanted to see an open primary.
"Over the past month, I've been grateful to meet with and listen to hundreds of Republican Committee members across the Commonwealth — and have been truly humbled by the tremendous showing of support for my candidacy," said Smith "As I've said consistently, I remain supportive of an open primary process."
Candidates David Christian, of Bucks County, and John Kensinger, of Bedford County, could not be reached for comment Monday.
Mike Barley, executive director of the Republican Party of Pennsylvania, said the endorsement process is open, transparent and an important way to judge each candidate’s value.
“It doesn’t mean anyone has to get out of the race. All it means is that our members have met with the candidates and decided which one is the best for the race,” Barley said.
Barley said it was disingenuous for some candidates who were seeking the endorsement to call for an open primary when they realized they would not win the party’s internal process.
But the Republican establishment faces opposition from tea party leaders who also are calling for no endorsement from the party.
“I believe we have some great candidates competing in this race, and it is time for the voters of Pennsylvania to have a voice in this process,” said Ana Puig, co-leader of the Kitchen Table Patriots, a Bucks County tea party group.
Puig said the national Republican Party is not endorsing any candidate in the presidential primary race, and the state party should follow that example.
Phil Duffy, a member of the West Chester Tea Party in Chester County, said an endorsement from the state GOP would limit the choices to voters in the primary election, because non-endorsed candidates would have access to few resources and likely would drop out of the race.
“We want this process to remain open,” Duffy said. “The people ought to be given an opportunity to speak.”
Puig and Duffy said their groups would not endorse any candidates in the race, and their
support of Rohrer’s message Monday was not an endorsement of his candidacy.