Toomey’s balancing act: Win over moderates, deal with Trump
HARRISBURG — Republican Sen. Pat Toomey already had the political balancing act of winning over middle-of-the-road voters in his quest for a second term in moderate Pennsylvania.
Now Toomey has another: distancing himself from Donald Trump.
In recent days, Toomey hedged on his long-stated intent to support the eventual GOP presidential nominee. In interviews and an editorial published in major newspapers, Toomey laid out a long list of concerns he has with the bombastic billionaire and warned: “I hope we don’t get to a point where I decide I just can’t support him.”
In doing so, he may risk alienating the Republican voters who delivered a surprising 37 percentage-point victory for Trump in Pennsylvania’s April 26 primary.
“I saw what Toomey said and did I like it? No, I didn’t like it,” said Arnold McClure, chairman of the Huntingdon County GOP.
McClure said he’ll vote for Toomey again. But “he angers me with his attitude. … Does that mean I’m some dummy who doesn’t know any better? That infuriates me.”
Toomey’s contest against Democrat Katie McGinty in the November election is considered crucial to deciding majority control of the Senate, where Republicans hold a 54-46 advantage but have to defend more than double the number of seats than Democrats.
Democrats like their chances against Toomey in Pennsylvania, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by 4 to 3.
That portends another tight race for the senator, who scored a 2 percentage-point victory in 2010’s Republican wave and is ranked by the American Conservative Union as the 13th most conservative senator.
In a typical presidential election year, Toomey would face what Republican campaign strategists view as a narrow, but reasonable path to victory: strong Republican support, plus some Democrats and most of the independents.
This year is anything but typical.
McGinty is aggressively tying Toomey to Trump and now Toomey is trotting out a longer list of differences than agreements with Trump.
“I’m trying to make some sense of the situation we’re in and it’s pretty unusual,” he said on WAEB-AM in Allentown.
Toomey said he hopes to support Trump, but his laundry list of complaints include Trump’s lack of devotion to conservative fiscal principles, his vulgarity, and his vagueness about what he would do as president — or how.
“In short, I find his candidacy highly problematic,” Toomey wrote in a 770-word opinion piece published in The Philadelphia Inquirer and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
In it, Toomey advised Trump to work to unite the Republican Party and the country, and to “listen more, and talk less” to win over critics. Toomey won’t vote for Hillary Clinton, the Democratic front-runner; she is “unacceptably flawed,” he wrote.
Pennsylvania’s GOP chairman, Rob Gleason, said he expects no ill-effects for Toomey from his criticism of Trump or from Trump’s divisiveness that has turned off a high percentage of voters — nearly 7 in 10, according to a recent AP-GfK poll.
“I always advise people, it’s their race. There’re no coattails anymore, good or bad,” Gleason said.
Toomey may be out of step with the majority of Pennsylvania’s Republican presidential primary voters, but not party brass. Very few GOP leaders or officials in Pennsylvania supported Trump in the primary. Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, the country’s first Homeland Security secretary, has said there’s “no chance” he’ll vote for Trump.
Still, the scale of Trump’s victory in Pennsylvania caught many party leaders by surprise, and some with less on the line than Toomey have fallen in line with Trump.
“We’ve got a coalition of Trump people here,” said Jim Worthington, an elected convention delegate from suburban Philadelphia. “If Toomey is not on board with Trump, well, I don’t know where I’m going to be on him.”
Said Joe Sacco, another Trump supporter from southcentral Pennsylvania: “I’ll vote for him for the good of the Republican Party, but he better start changing his ways and getting on the bandwagon, like the rest of us.”
Follow Marc Levy on Twitter at www.twitter.com/timelywriter. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/author/marc-levy