Who’s Running to Face Bob Casey?

Scott Detrow & Essential Public Radio Staff April 23, 2012

Pennsylvania Republicans will take to the polls Tuesday to choose a U.S. Senate nominee. The five-way GOP primary has flown under the radar this year, generating much less attention than previous campaigns.

Four of the five men running for Senate addressed Philadelphia Tea Party voters with a similar message: the federal government spends too much and taxes too much. They’re all opposed to President Obama’s policies, particularly the healthcare overhaul.

The Republican Party has endorsed Steve Welch, a southeastern Pennsylvania businessman for whom Governor Corbett lobbied during the party’s winter meeting. Welch said his private sector experience sets him apart.

“In the last decade I’ve either started myself, or been intimately involved in the creation of more than 50 companies,” said Welch. “I think I understand this economy from the ground up.”

Tom Smith, a former coal company owner and leader of the Armstrong County Tea Party, has been spending money on TV ads for months.

“Somebody that’s balanced a budget, somebody that ran a business that was highly-regulated, I think that’s one of our big plusses that we bring,” said Smith. “Another thing is I’ve never ran for statewide office before, or federal office.”

Sam Rohrer said the candidates who brag about being outsiders wouldn’t make effective senators. The former longtime Berks County state representative, who ran for governor in 2010, said the party nominee should have a legislative background.

“They don’t know what it means to write a bill, or to read legislation, or to understand what parliamentary procedures are all about, or how that works, and how the process of moving bills forward on the floor takes place,” Rohrer said.

David Christian is a decorated Vietnam War veteran, who used his appearance at the event to call for an end to the war in Afghanistan.

“You have to know that hundreds of hundreds of millions and billions of dollars are being spent on foreign wars,” said Christian. “I think it’s time to bring back the conventional forces. Bring them home, and let our special forces do what needs to be done.”

And there’s also Marc Scaringi, a Harrisburg-area lawyer who worked for then Pennsylvania Attorney General Mike Fisher and then U.S. Senator Rick Santorum. He’s positioned himself as the true conservative in the race.

“Well, I’m one of the few Republican candidates running in the Republican primary for the Republican nomination to the United States Senate,” Scaringi said.

That’s a dig at Smith and Welch, both former Democrats.

All five candidates face an uphill battle when it comes to name recognition. A late March poll from Franklin and Marshall College found 81 percent of respondents hadn’t made up their minds for whom to vote.

Incumbent Senator Bob Casey is challenged in the Democratic primary by Joseph Vodvarka, owner of a spring and wire form manufacturing business in Allegheny County.