TV attack ads start fast in Pennsylvania Senate race
HARRISBURG — Democrat Katie McGinty had barely finished her victory speech celebrating a 10-point Pennsylvania primary win for the nomination to challenge Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey before TV attack ads began flying in a general election contest that could tilt political control of the U.S. Senate.
Already, four TV ads — three of them are attack ads — have begun airing since Tuesday night in an effort to shape the race leading to the Nov. 8 election.
Pennsylvanians should prepare for even more mud-slinging: Tens of millions of dollars are likely to be spent to influence a campaign that is being watched nationally.
The attacks are along these themes: Toomey is a right-wing Wall Street shill who is riding shotgun with Donald Trump; and McGinty is a left-wing bureaucrat who used the government-corporate revolving door to enrich herself and is Hillary Clinton’s ideological soul mate.
“Pat Toomey, he’s for Wall Street, not us,” says the narrator in a TV ad airing Friday by the Washington, D.C.-based American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees.
And a Toomey campaign attack ad that began airing Friday says, “Katie McGinty makes government work for her, not for us.”
Beginning in 2015, Toomey’s campaign, Democratic primary candidates and outside advocacy groups have already spent well over $20 million to influence the outcome of Pennsylvania’s Senate race.
In her victory speech Tuesday night, McGinty tied Toomey to Trump.
A Toomey-Trump team would, she said, promote bigotry and job-outsourcing, dismantle President Barack Obama’s signature health care law and “end” Social Security and Medicare.
“Now do we need the likes of Trump and Toomey setting any more of these kinds of records?” she asked the victory party crowd.
Toomey has said he voted for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, not Trump.
“Katie McGinty may try to somehow tie me to Donald Trump, fine, she can do whatever she feels she needs to do,” Toomey, told WPHT-AM radio in Philadelphia on Wednesday. “But the fact is, she is in lockstep with Hillary Clinton. She actually agrees with Hillary Clinton and the most liberal wing of the Democrats on everything.”
A fiscal conservative, Toomey is ranked by the American Conservative Union as the third-most conservative Pennsylvania member of Congress and 13th among U.S. senators. A former investment banker and restaurateur, Toomey served three U.S. House terms before becoming president of the Washington, D.C.-based Club for Growth.
McGinty, who endorsed Hillary Clinton for president, has strong connections to top Democrats, having worked for Al Gore, former Gov. Ed Rendell, current Gov. Tom Wolf and the Clinton White House. This is her second campaign for public office, after finishing a distant fourth in 2014’s four-way gubernatorial primary.
To win the Democratic primary, the party and its allies spent more than $4 million to help McGinty beat former U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak, who lost to Toomey in 2010.
The record of unseating an incumbent U.S. senator in Pennsylvania is short.
Since the Vietnam War ended, just two U.S. senators — Rick Santorum in 2006 and Arlen Specter in 2010 — have lost re-election in Pennsylvania. Both men ran in a party with deep misgivings about them.
Toomey, however, has strong backing from the Republican Party. He’s also well-funded, having reported $9.1 million in his campaign account as of April 6. McGinty reported less than $1 million.
Beyond that, he has the support of groups that spend heavily to influence congressional races: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is airing a pro-Toomey TV ad and the Club for Growth is airing an ad attacking McGinty.
McGinty goes into the general election cycle with at least one big advantage: Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans four-to-three. There may be another advantage: Some Republican Party officials warn that Trump as the GOP presidential nominee will have a disastrous effect on other Republican candidates, including Toomey.
It’s too early to say what Trump’s effect will be, said G. Terry Madonna, a pollster and public affairs professor at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster. But, one of Toomey’s biggest fears, Madonna said, is that “he could be caught in an election cycle that reverberates against him.”