The campaign for Pennsylvania's Senate seat
HARRISBURG — Democrats can expect to decide a primary contest in nine months to see who will challenge U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican who is seeking his second six-year term in the 2016 election. The seat is expected to be crucial to determining control of the U.S. Senate, and Democrats hope their four-to-three registration advantage in Pennsylvania and heightened voter interest in the presidential election will deliver a victory to their eventual nominee. Here is a look at the race and the candidates:
THE INCUMBENT: Toomey, 53, of suburban Allentown, is running for re-election and has the Republican Party unified behind him. Toomey is a free-market advocate and fiscal conservative who is popular with anti-tax, small-government and business advocacy groups. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has already run a TV ad this summer supporting Toomey's candidacy.
Still, Toomey doesn't always agree with business groups or even Republican leaders. For instance, he opposes the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank and he voted in 2013 against legislation to raise the nation's borrowing limit and end the federal government's 16-day shutdown, although rejecting the legislation risked a national default.
Toomey is showing that he is not afraid to wade into polarizing social issues: He is listed as a co-sponsor on Senate legislation banning most late-term abortions and he worked with West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin to expand background checks on gun purchases in the wake of the school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut.
Toomey's aides tout his willingness to work on legislation with Democrats. For example, in addition to the background checks legislation, Toomey and California Democrat Dianne Feinstein introduced a bill seeking to repeal the corn ethanol mandate in the federal Renewable Fuel Standard.
THE CHALLENGERS: Democrat Joe Sestak is returning for a rematch, but it appears he'll have to beat Katie McGinty next April 26 to do it. Sestak was a relatively unknown, second-term congressman and former Navy vice admiral who decided in 2009 to buck party leaders — including President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden — to challenge longtime U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, a moderate Republican-turned-Democrat who switched parties to avoid a near-certain primary loss to Toomey. Sestak, 63, beat Specter soundly in the primary — largely thanks to Democratic Party primary voters who had opposed Specter for years.
Sestak went on to lose narrowly to Toomey in a strong election for Republicans. But Sestak cemented his reputation with party leaders as a maverick: he did not coordinate his campaign with the wider Democratic Party slate and he prided himself in standing up to party leaders.
McGinty, 52, joined the staff of then-U.S. Sen. Al Gore in 1989. She went on to become a top environmental adviser to the Clinton White House, Gore's 2000 presidential campaign and former Gov. Ed Rendell. After a stint in the private sector, the daughter of a Philadelphia police officer ran for governor, finishing a distant fourth in last year's four-way Democratic Party primary. But she made enough of an impression on Tom Wolf, the party's nominee, that he tapped her to head a political action committee that supported his general election candidacy, and then he hired her as his chief of staff. Some Democratic Party leaders remained uneasy with Sestak's repeat candidacy, and sought an alternative, including McGinty. McGinty resigned her post with Wolf on Wednesday and Democrats expect her to announce her candidacy soon.
THE COST: Expect tens of millions of dollars to pour into the race, mostly for TV ads. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington, D.C.-based campaign finance watchdog, candidates and outside groups combined spent more than $82 million on last year's Senate race in North Carolina, the most in the election cycle. Pennsylvania's last U.S. Senate election, in 2012, cost about $40 million, when U.S. Sen. Bob Casey beat Republican challenger Tom Smith. The cost of Pennsylvania's 2010 election for U.S. Senate exceeded $50 million. Toomey has a head start: he had more than $8 million in cash through the last federal reporting deadline of June 30; Sestak had just over $2 million.
THE MATH: Democrats have two things going for them. They own a four-to-three registration advantage over Republicans in Pennsylvania. The other one is this: Republicans are defending the seats of 24 incumbent U.S. senators in the 2016 election, while Democrats are defending only 10. That gives Democrats more chances to narrow the current Republican majority of 54-46.