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Welch withdraws from 6th District race (Updated)

Welch withdraws from 6th District race (Updated)

KENNETT SQUARE—Republican Steven Welch abruptly dropped out of the race for Congress in the 6th District Saturday morning, allowing the GOP to avoid an expensive primary fight and dimming Democratic hopes of winning the suburban Philadelphia district.

Welch made his sudden announcement as Chester County Republicans opened their nominating convention at a banquet hall here. Having asked to address the audience of almost 400 local committee members, Welch lauded what he called the “completely open” process in Chester County, and then stepped aside.

“For me to fight hard right now would do more harm than good,” Welch said. “For that reason, I am withdrawing.

“We have a chance to send Jim Gerlach back to Congress to lead the way forward,” he added.

His decision, which he told was only made late Friday night, marks the close of the first chapter of a young political career that was stymied by a couple rounds of bad luck, but one which he enthusiastically said will continue. Asked if a future run for public office is in the cards, Welch said “absolutely, yes.”

“Let’s be honest,” he said, “I’ve had a relatively unlucky start to this career, but I’ve enjoyed it.”

However he moves forward, it seems he can count on future support from Chester County Republicans. After taking the stage to some grumblings from committee members, he left to nothing but applause. During a subsequent interview, one committeeman approached Welch and said “that was a great move—the party will respect you forever.”

After Welch’s withdrawal, Gerlach easily won the party’s endorsement—but not before state Representative Curt Schroder, who dropped out of the race last month, had garnered a significant number of committee votes.

“This endorsement clearly signals that Republicans are energized and united in purpose this year,” Gerlach said in a statement later.

Welch, a wealthy biotech entrepreneur, had originally planned to run for Congress in the 7th District, but switched to the 6th District race after former U.S. Attorney Pat Meehan became the GOP’s leading candidate in the 7th. At the time of the switch, Gerlach, the 6th District incumbent Republican, was running for governor, and Welch was a leading contender in the crowded GOP primary to replace him. But Gerlach changed his mind last month and decided to seek reelection, leading a couple other candidates to drop from the race, even as Welch seemed resolute that, this time, he was staying put.

“Clearly there was no path that would help the ideals I believe in,” Welch said in the interview. “I was going to lose.

“While I don’t agree with Jim on everything,” he added, “I certainly think he’s better than the Democratic alternative.”

His decision, which came as county Democrats were scheduled to vote on their endorsement in the race just 10 miles away, again shakes up a political landscape that has been reordered more than a few times this cycle. Six months ago, it was Republicans who were facing a potentially divisive primary, while Democrats seemed to have unified behind Doug Pike. Now, the tables are turned, with the GOP firmly behind Gerlach and Democrats looking at a competitive, three-way primary. Welch, for his part, had loaned his campaign half-a-million dollars, and can recoup any of that money that went unspent. The $150,000 he contributed outright, though, cannot be returned.

Before exiting the race, Welch lauded the Chester County party for what he called a fair endorsement process—something he contrasted with Montgomery County Republican leaders who, he said, didn’t inform him of their recent decision to endorse Gerlach or invite him to make his case (Welch said he learned about the endorsement from

“I meant what I said in there,” Welch said afterward. “The party has been amazing. This has been fair. I want everyone to know that I will still be involved in this process, even though I’m not a candidate.”

February 20, 2010 at 7:05 pm

--Dan Hirschhorn

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