Government
8:00 am
Mon November 28, 2011

Nine and Counting? GOP Contenders Vie For Casey's Senate Seat

A political analyst does not expect any more "name" candidates will emerge for Pennsylvania's April Republican primary for U.S. Senate.

Former State Representative Sam Rohrer of Berks County was the latest to join the fray when, last Tuesday, he announced his candidacy for the GOP nomination to take on U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA).

"We probably have the longest laundry list of candidates (for a Pennsylvania U.S. Senate seat) in memory," said Terry Madonna, Director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College. But Madonna doesn't believe that there are any "top tier" candidates, such as a member of Congress or a Pennsylvania Cabinet officer.

"You've got a mix of people," Madonna said. "But what's missing, I think, from the Republican side is what we would call a major opponent for the senator [Bob Casey]."

This will be Rohrer's second statewide contest, having lost the Republican gubernatorial primary to Tom Corbett in May 2010. The 56-year-old Rohrer served nine, two-year terms in the Pennsylvania House.

Lots of Choices

Eight other Republicans declared their Senate candidacies earlier:

  • Washington County businessman Tim Burns, who lost his bid last November to unseat Congressman Mark Critz (D-PA-12)
  • David Christian, a highly-decorated Green Beret Vietnam War veteran
  • Scranton Tea Party activist Laureen Cummings
  • John Kessinger, a pharmacist from Bedford County
  • Marc Scaringi, an attorney and aide to then-U.S. Senator Rick Santorum
  • Former coal company owner Tom Smith
  • Retired Army Colonel John Vernon
  • Chester County businessman Steve Welch

None of the nine has "scared off" any other hopefuls. "But remember, we're not into what we would call 'crunch time,'" Madonna said. He was referring to February, when candidates who want to be on the ballot must file nominating petitions. "That's a tough slog to go through, and the candidates at this point aren't advertising. They're doing some visits to Republican groups, giving some speeches here and there. But they're literally not spending the kind of money that it will take to get the nomination."

According to the Pennsylvania Department of State, Senate candidates must collect a minimum of 2,000 signatures from registered voters. Despite the work to get on the ballot, Madonna still expects five or so of the candidates to remain in the race. "Because there is no front-runner. None of these candidates have any name recognition in the state," Madonna said. "Literally 25, probably 30 percent of the voters couldn't tell you who these candidates are."

He added that it takes about three to five million dollars to build any "reasonable name recognition" in Pennsylvania. Still, Madonna admits that Rohrer has the advantage because of his 2010 bid for governor.

The Tea Party Effect

In that race, Rohrer positioned himself as more conservative than Tom Corbett and picked up nearly a third of the votes, many from Tea Party supporters. Still, there are two other Tea Party favorites among the GOP Senate candidates: Tom Smith of Armstrong County and Laureen Cummings from Lackawanna County.

"Remember, the Tea Party is diffuse. It doesn't have an overall leader," Madonna said. "It marches to its own drummer in different parts of the state. As of yet, I wouldn't bet that Tea Party activists would be crowded out, that they would side with one of these candidates or another. It could be in the northeast [part of the state] the Tea Party will rally around Cummings. It could be in the southwest the Tea Party advocates rally around [Smith]. It's really too early to know what the Tea Party activists will do."

Each Has Something to Add

So what are Republican voters looking for from this field of nine that includes military veterans, business people, a former county commissioner, Tea Party activists and an aide to then-Senator Santorum?

"This is the most eclectic group of candidates seeking a (Pennsylvania) U.S. Senate seat in my memory, maybe in history," Madonna said. "Having said that, I don't know that any one candidate fits the bill. They all have a little piece of the resume."

Madonna said that the key will be which of the candidates can best articulate the conservative message, "but also lay out a vision of how they will beat Senator Casey in the fall."