NEW YORK - There was little evidence of recession in midtown Manhattan's jammed streets and packed stores, hotels, restaurants and theaters over Pennsylvania Society weekend.

Nor was there evidence of political news or even excitement, a tad strange for this annual pilgrimage of face time for and with state pols and those who back them, oppose them, make money off them or hope to.

I searched. The most I found was a claim from former state House member and past Ed Rendell campaign manager David Sweet, who stopped me to say, "I heard something of significance that might be true."

Close enough, said I.

But Sweet couldn't remember what it was. Said he'd get back to me. Still waiting.

So I'm left with tidbits rather than themes - bites, as it were, from the Big Apple.

PRE-DEBATE DIS? Steve Welch, 35, a tech-firm rich guy from Chester County, is one of 10 Republicans vying for the chance to oppose Sen. Bob Casey next year.

At one event, Welch comes up behind Casey, introduces himself and says, "I look forward to showing you how to build an economy from the ground up."

Standing nearby, incognito, I think, KA-BAM!

But Casey opts out of any retort beyond a casual "nice to meet you."

CASEY CAKEWALK? When I ask Casey if he's steeled for the challenge of facing one of 10 unknowns or 30-percenters, he smiles and says, "2012 is going to be a difficult year." Then he turns to an aide, asking, "Did I say that right?"

He's not really bragging. Top GOP leaders are disconsolate about their field.

And the one they wanted in, U.S. Rep. Pat Meehan, is out in no small measure because of long ties to the Casey family: worked at the Dilworth firm with "The Real" Bob Casey before he was governor; also worked with Dilworth lawyer Chris Casey, the senator's brother.

CORBETT'S CHARGE: Speaking to hundreds of business, government and law leaders at a Pennsylvania Manufacturers' Association seminar Saturday morning, the governor leaves no doubt where he stands on booze. He says, "To the Legislature: Get us out of the business now!" If by "now" he means that sometime in the coming years maybe the Legislature will listen, he could be onto something.

(An aside: The guv who got the most buzz was Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who spoke at a GOP fundraiser at the Plaza. Wide agreement he was terrific, speaking at length without notes. Corbett introduced him, using notes. I'm just saying.)

THORNBURGH REDUX? Former mayor/governor/national Democratic Party boss Rendell, known for stirring political pots, hails me in the lobby of the Waldorf, where he's chatting with David Thornburgh, son of the former GOP governor and current chief of Penn's respected Fels Institute of Government.

Ed says he wants to run David for governor next time "as a Democrat."

David says that when he moved to Philly he tried to register Republican but got registered as a Democrat.

"I don't think we do that intentionally," says Ed.

When I press David about his potential political future, he simply smiles, nods toward Ed and says, "No, no, that's all a product of his mind."

Ed promises to endorse him early.

DELIBERATE DeWEESE: Unbowed by his upcoming corruption trial, former Democratic state House Speaker Bill DeWeese is outright jolly. He says that if any sad-eyed hanger-on comes up, lays a hand on his shoulder and gives him a soulful, whispered 'How are you doing?' he'll look the person dead in the eye and say, "Jingle all the way, mother------." Nice to have the holiday spirit.

SAIDEL'S SOLUTION: At some point, while groaning about the paucity of ammo, I tell former Philly controller and 2010 Democratic-primary candidate for lieutenant governor Jonathan Saidel that there's nothing here.

He says: "There's nothing here because that's the way it should be. This event should not occur."

I'm starting to think he's right.

For recent columns, go to philly.com/JohnBaer. Read his blog at www.philly.com/BaerGrowls.