Thirty minutes after Katie McGinty won the Democratic nomination for Pennsylvania, she was already railing on her November opponent Pat Toomey — and, naturally, Donald Trump.
“Are you ready to beat Pat Toomey and Donald Trump?” she said to dozens of supporters in South Philly tonight, later hitting on “the Trump-Toomey ticket” and its “brand of bigotry.”
The Democratic primary for the Pennsylvania Senate was called after 10 p.m., long after Trump won the Pennsylvania GOP and called himself “the presumptive nominee.” McGinty beat out former Congressman Joe Sestak, the favorite for months, by double digits with nearly 60 percent of precincts reporting statewide.
Tonight, she became the Comeback Kid. This November, she’ll take on Toomey, an establishment-type Republican who the GOP can’t afford to lose from the Senate. And tonight, the general election campaign already begun.
“Democrats have thrown in their lot with a far left machine politician who has an ethics rap sheet a mile long,” Toomey spokesman Ted Kwong said in a statement. “McGinty makes government work for her, not for us, and that’s not what our state is looking for in a U.S. Senator.”
When you look at McGinty’s supporters — big labor, popular politicians, the president — you wouldn’t think she was an underdog. But somehow, she became one. The Philadelphia native jumped into the Senate race relatively late and announced her candidacy in August after serving for eight months as Gov. Tom Wolf’s chief of staff.
She was up against Sestak, a former congressman who had essentially been campaigning for the last six years since the last time he challenged Sen. Pat Toomey for a PA Senate seat (and lost). The former Navy admiral literally walked across the state throughout all of 2015 and McGinty had to make up considerable ground.
And things didn’t look good for McGinty just weeks before the primary. Sestak was still leading in every poll and her numbers had hardly changed since the beginning of 2016. The silver lining for her campaign? A whole lot of likely Democratic voters were undecided.
Thus, the ad blitz begun. With the help of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and EMILY’s List, a Super PAC that funds pro-choice candidates, McGinty had millions dumped into television ads boosting her name recognition and her statewide profile.
Clearly, the cash and the ads helped. A recently-released Harper Poll showed McGinty and Sestak were deadlocked among likely primary voters. In the final debate between the three Democratic candidates, McGinty pivoted to hit Toomey, not Sestak. But generally, the message stayed the same.
Throughout her campaign since August, McGinty largely stayed in her lane: Working families. Everything she hit on while campaigning had something to do with health care or the minimum wage or collective bargaining or workers’ rights.
“It’s a stunningly strong theme out there,” McGinty said in an interview in February, “that people are giving it all they got, and with a little assist, we will see people be able to take off and build a bright future.”
She kept pushing those working families views during her victory speech tonight, saying “After six years of Senator Pat Toomey being on the wrong side of every one of these issues, here’s what I say: Pennsylvania, it’s your turn.”
It’s how she garnered support from labor unions across the state and the message the Democratic party clearly thought would resonate with voters. But the question was always: Were party elites actually high on Katie McGinty? Or were they just annoyed with Joe Sestak?
McGinty has a long resume spanning from Philly to Harrisburg to Washington, but her only other experience in running for public office didn’t go well. She ran for governor in 2014 and came in fourth out of four in the Democratic primary and afterwards took a job working for Wolf, her biggest competitor in the race for the governor’s office.
Meanwhile, Sestak is an anti-establishment type who has a bad relationship with the Democratic establishment. He ran against party wishes six years ago and defeated Arlen Specter in the primary, a longtime Republican who switched parties with the expectation of winning. Because of Sestak, he didn’t. To add insult to injury for the Democratic party, Sestak ended up losing to Toomey in the general election — but he made it clear not long after that he wanted to run again.
And so McGinty was at a disadvantage. Sestak had years to raise money and grassroots support; McGinty had months.
But she beat the odds with the heavy support of the Democratic party establishment. Now, she’s looking toward November and running a campaign based on working people, women’s rights and a message that emphasizes that, yes, America is already great.
“Hear that Donald?” she asked. “We are the greatest nation.”