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Pa. GOP Senate Race Shaping Up as Embarrassment for Corbett, Establishment Pa. GOP Senate Race Shaping Up as Embarrassment for Corbett, Establish...

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CAMPAIGN 2012

Pa. GOP Senate Race Shaping Up as Embarrassment for Corbett, Establishment

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Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett listens during a meeting of the Penn State University Board of Trustees in State College, Pa., Friday, Nov. 11, 2011. The Board of Trustees who fired legendary football coach Joe Paterno and school president Graham Spanier are meeting in the wake of the massive shakeup prompted by a child sex-abuse scandal. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)  (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Welch's campaign has floundered in recent months, raising a paltry $150,000 in the first three months of the year -- less than even Rohrer. He's given himself a million dollars, but with the wealthy Smith willing to write himself an even larger check, the influence of Welch's personal money has been mitigated. As a result, Welch's paid media campaign has been very limited. Despite the support of the state party and endorsements from several of the state's largest newspapers, a primary victory by Welch would shock many GOP insiders at this point. Attorney Marc Scaringi and Vietnam veteran David Christian are also running, but they were never expected to contend for the nomination. In conversations in the days leading up to the primary, many GOP strategists have privately asked the same question: Was this really the best we could do? The three main contenders for the nomination include two businessmen with well-documented pasts as Democrats, and a state representative who excites some conservatives but has always struggled to raise enough money. Perhaps most frustrating for some Republicans, the weak field is not a result of a lack of a bench within the state party. Several members of the state's congressional delegation could have made strong Casey opponents, including Reps. Charlie Dent and Jim Gerlach. But despite some brief flirtations, none of the congressmen decided to take the leap, perhaps deciding it would be easier to hold onto their own seats than challenge Casey. State Sen. Jake Corman, another potentially strong challenger, cited family concerns when he announced he wouldn't seek the nomination. While the GOP field was weak to begin with, the state committee's decision to endorse Welch further muddled the nominating process rather than clearing the field, as it often has in past GOP primaries in the state. In local state party straw poll votes in the weeks before the state party convention, Burns and Smith consistently outperformed Welch. Without a clear frontrunner, many, including some of the candidates, called on the state party to remain neutral in the race. But at the behest of Corbett, the party hierarchy lined up, albeit not very enthusiastically, behind Welch. "It wasn't just that they pushed for an endorsement for Steve Welch," one Pennsylvania GOP strategist said. "They really strong-armed people." Many continue to scratch their heads over Corbett's thinking. Welch brought serious baggage to a GOP primary fight: He voted for President Obama in the 2008 Democratic primary and offered to hold a fundraiser for former Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak. Some suggest that Corbett sided with Welch because BrabenderCox, the powerful Republican consulting firm that represents the governor, had signed on to work for Welch. Others speculate that Corbett wanted to appease the southeastern Pennsylvania GOP caucus after deciding not to support the group's preferred candidate for Attorney General. Welch hails from southeastern Pennsylvania, but there is little indication that local party leaders ever had any particular affinity for him. The southeastern caucus of the state party made the unusual move of not holding a straw poll to endorse a candidate before the state party convention in January. Regardless of Corbett's motivations, what's clear is that the state party endorsement never translated into positive momentum for Welch's struggling campaign. "I think many are understanding that it was not a good decision," Rohrer said. Welch is hoping the high amount of undecided voters -- even in Smith's own most recently released survey, about a third of the Republican electorate was undecided -- will gravitate to him. But there are no signs that he's been building major momentum ahead of Tuesday. With Welch looking at a potential third place finish, Corbett could end up with some egg on his face on Tuesday, and those who criticized the party for endorsing at all will have more fodder for their argument. "If Tom Smith wins on Tuesday or Sam Rohrer wins on Tuesday, then the state committee endorsement just went down about 550 points on its Dow Jones average," one Pennsylvania Republican said. "It really, really, really is going to accelerate a campaign to get rid of endorsements altogether, and I think also will send a message that's it's not really all that valuable."

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