I disagree with Sebastian that Sam Rohrer’s potential entry into the Senate race against Bob Casey makes him the best candidate the GOP has to run. My issues with him all center around his ability to run a viable statewide campaign. We had a preview of his attempts in the gubernatorial race last year, and I think his decisions proved that he doesn’t know how to prioritize how to spend money or turn out the actual votes needed to win. Some of this is rehashed from previous comments around the blog and emails with readers.
Why Sam Shouldn’t Run
His primary campaign proved that he wasn’t capable of running in a serious statewide race. Considering a race against Casey would be even tougher than a primary against Corbett, I think these issues are even more important to consider. His campaign did a lot of local events that often turned out 50-200 people. That normally sounds like a great grassroots campaign strategy. In some ways, it can get voters talking to their friends and neighbors more than a larger typical political rally. But what many campaign observers noticed is that he kept talking to the same groups over and over. He never branched out beyond typical Tea Party-type events. In politics, you have to build a coalition of voters to win. In a purple state that will see a strong influx of Democratic money for the presidential election, the Tea Party support won’t cut it. It won’t even come close. Without solid existing relationships with a variety of coalition groups, he may not even pull together quite a bit of the traditional Republican vote. If he could not or would not reach out to the coalitions during a GOP primary, we can’t trust that he’ll try to reach them or independents in 2012.
The other big red flag for Sam Rohrer is how he prioritized his spending during the last race. His gubernatorial fundraising account had a whooping $272.25 left in it. (This statement was true at the time I wrote the original comment in winter of 2010.) Oh, and that’s only if he decides to ignore the $10,000 loan he made to his own campaign that is still outstanding. Considering the average cost to win a Senate seat in 2010 was $8.28 million (and down ticket races will be competing with presidential candidates in 2012 for airtime expenses), starting off $9,727.75 in the hole isn’t exactly the best place to be a little over a year out from the primary.
Rohrer didn’t have a lot of money to work with, so he really needed to use it wisely. Instead, he paid Aaron Tippin $10,000. A concert? Really? Three days before an election it’s time to get out the vote, not goof off in Harrisburg. He paid $2,000 directly to Joe the Plumber for his support. (There’s an additional listing for his services combined with some robocalls for $17,429. It’s not clear just how much of that went to Joe the Plumber.) Joe the Plumber’s 15 minutes were up by then, and he certainly doesn’t have any serious connections to groups of voters in Pennsylvania.
Unfortunately, Rohrer’s campaign tried to rely on political stunts to get media coverage. That’s no way to run a statewide campaign, something I think is accurately reflected in the results of the election (more than 2-1 loss). The other issue that Rohrer has working against him are his own supporters. I realize that’s not his fault, but some of them have left a very bad impression with other coalition groups. Many took that attitude that if their guy didn’t win, they would take their ball back home and sit out completely. That’s not the way to build a serious coalition to support your current or future favored candidates.
If Rohrer could learn to raise money in a heartbeat, teach his most vocal supporters how to play well with others so they can successfully recruit into the cause, make an effort to actually reach out to non-Tea Party groups, and demonstrate he’s learned how to effectively spend money on getting out the vote, then he could have potential. I don’t think he’s done that in the last year.
Who is the Best GOP Candidate?
Let me just say that I don’t know if there’s a fantastic candidate who will absolutely have a great chance against Casey. Bob Casey has made his reputation by avoiding the spotlight and hoping people think he is his father. Consider that Pat Toomey just barely squeaked out a win in 2010, and that was against a far left liberal. Casey has the perception of being a moderate. Hell, he barely has the perception of having a pulse, so he’s hardly making waves with people in a negative way. Not to mention, Joe Sestak had a nice & dirty primary before his general campaign against Toomey. We won’t have that to bring down Casey’s reputation in 2012.
There’s at least one candidate who already has a bit of a federal profile & fundraising network. Tim Burns launched a campaign against John Murtha and ended up having to run in both a special election and a general against a replacement candidate who had all of the contacts without all of the personal baggage and negative name recognition of Murtha. Even with the special circumstances, Burns managed to pull off 45% of the vote in the special and 49% of the vote in the general election. Considering how much of the district’s economy depended on the pork that only Murtha and his staff (his successor Mark Critz was his Chief of Staff) could deliver, it’s amazing that Burns managed to perform so well in a time of economic uncertainty. Because it started as a campaign against Murtha, it means that Burns could tap into nationwide fundraising resources for that campaign. He presumably still has that kind of reach.
Another candidate with serious potential, but less of a track record in the campaign department, is Steve Welch from the Philly suburbs. He was in the race for Congress until Pat Meehan bumped him out. Then, he was recruited to run in the neighboring district since the next district is nearby and incumbent Rep. Gerlach was leaving the seat to run for governor – until Gerlach changed his mind and essentially booted Welch from the race. The fact that so many Republicans in the area want him to run to represent them speaks well of him, and he has recruited a campaign team with experience running successful statewide races with strong independent support. He’s wealthy, so that also gives him a head start in the fundraising game.
Those are just my two cents about the current crop of serious potential candidates.