In the Republican primary for U.S. Senate, polls show voters don't know the candidates' names, let alone their positions on issues or qualifications for office.
None of the party's better-known politicians even tried for a chance to take on Democratic U.S. Sen. Robert Casey, perhaps remembering that Casey ousted former Republican U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum by 18 points in 2006. In the Republican primary field of five, the two most credible candidates are largely self-funded millionaires: Steve Welch and Tom Smith. STEVE WELCH, however, is a better fit to carry the party's flag.
Welch, 35, of Malvern, is an entrepreneur whose ideas fly like sparks off an anvil. He has the potential to bring some fresh and creative thinking to the campaign trail and, maybe, Washington. He speaks with the wisdom of a man who has actually started businesses from scratch, and has the humility to admit he made mistakes on the way to his considerable fortune.
Welch's first successful company developed patents to make flu shots more efficient. Another company looks for innovations in education. A self-described problem solver, he runs an incubator for fellow technology entrepreneurs. He calls himself a wonk, perhaps a sign that he won't pander to the anti-intellectuals who seem to have his party's ear.
Smith, 64, of Plumcreek Township, in Armstrong County, was a coal miner who started his own coal company. He credits his success to hard work and good employees. He is a grain farmer who owns car washes and a trucking company. While his life story is remarkable, Smith doesn't seem as open to closing the party divide in Congress, which is essential to curing government of its paralysis.
Welch, who was once a Democrat, does need to flesh out his predictable party-line stands on the issues. He wants to cut government spending and simplify the tax code. Who doesn't? He hits all the Republican Party's notes on the social issues. He opposes abortion and gay marriage, but sides with the gun lobby.
Like many self-made and self-funded candidates, Welch seems to think his business success has prepared him for one of the most intellectually demanding and powerful offices in the nation. But he has to make the case to voters that he can quickly learn how to become an effective advocate for Pennsylvania, and not disappear on the Senate's backbench.
Also running in the Republican primary are former State Rep. Sam Rorher; Marc Scaringi, an attorney who worked for Santorum as a Senate aide; and David Christian, an executive at a hydraulic equipment company. Smart and personable, Welch is the superior candidate.