Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey has not endorsed Donald Trump. He didn’t even vote for him, and has made a point to call him out on more than one occasion.
But Trump is now the “presumptive” (almost-definite-unless-there’s-an-alien-invasion-at-the-RNC) nominee to take on Hillary Clinton for the White House in the fall. That means all kinds of headaches for Toomey and other Republicans running for election.
And as you’ve probably guessed, the linkage between Toomey and The Donald has already begun.
Last week, Pennsylvania Democrats anointed Katie McGinty, formerly Gov. Tom Wolf’s chief of staff, the Democratic nominee to take on Toomey, a one-term Pennsylvania senator who’s up for re-election this year and is widely seen as one of the senators who’s most vulnerable in losing his seat. National Democrats have their eye on the seat as one that could be key in re-taking control of the Senate.
In campaign emails and tweets and advertisements and public appearances, McGinty has dubbed her opponent not Toomey, but “the Trump-Toomey ticket” and, in the same style as some Democrats running across the nation, is using almost every chance she gets to compare Toomey to Trump.
“We’re getting a taste of what the Toomey-Trump team would do right now as they lead an unprecedented obstruction of the Supreme Court and push for what would be the longest vacancy in our nation’s history,” McGinty said during her first speech as the Democratic nominee for Pennsylvania Senate the night of the primary. “Do we need Toomey and Trump setting any more records like this?”
Her campaign is circulating charts showing that Toomey and Trump agree on issues like healthcare, the minimum wage and filling the vacancy on the Supreme Court. And the national Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee featured Toomey in an ad that showed Republicans in Congress alongside videos of Trump making some of his most unsavory statements.
Meanwhile, Toomey hasn’t enthusiastically supported Trump’s campaign for the White House. Under pressure to answer one way or the other, Toomey has said he’d support the Republican nominee for president over Clinton.
He first and foremost supported Sen. Marco Rubio for the nomination and then, after Rubio left the race, said on primary day that he casted his vote for Sen. Ted Cruz, who dropped out this week. (Which also begs the question: Might Trump hold a grudge against Toomey and publicly denounce him?) Toomey has also rebuked Trump’s stances at least twice, once on The Donald’s plan to ban Muslims from entering the United States and again after his commentary on the Ku Klux Klan and Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.
Toomey told Philadelphia talk show host Dom Giordano it’s “outrageous” to compare him to Trump.
“Katie McGinty may somehow try to tie me to Donald Trump. You know, fine. She can do whatever she’s gonna feel she needs to do,” he said, later adding: “Donald Trump was not my first choice. He wasn’t my second choice. But, you know, I don’t want to see Hillary Clinton take this country further to the left, to make the terrible policy of President Obama permanent, which she would tend to do.”
In a statement, Toomey’s campaign spokesman Ted Kwong said “Pat Toomey has made it very clear that he disagrees with Donald Trump in several areas” and called McGinty “a total liberal rubber stamp” for Clinton, who McGinty has endorsed. Pennsylvania pollster G. Terry Madonna, Director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall University, said the Democrats’ goal of linking down-ballot Republicans to Trump is clear — what isn’t clear yet is if it’s working.
“In states where Trump is not popular, you’re going to see the linkage made just the way candidates are doing in our state, particularly Katie McGinty,” Madonna said. “She can’t say a sentence without saying Trump and Toomey.”
Sen. Bob Casey, the senior senator from Pennsylvania and a Democrat who has supported McGinty, told the Wall Street Journal tying Toomey to Trump isn’t and can’t be the sole campaign strategy for McGinty.
“I don’t think you can bank upon tying them together,” he told the paper. “People will analyze the Senate race individually.”
Madonna wondered if Trump can rally Pennsylvania Republicans first. Trump is down by double digits to Clinton in the most recent Pennsylvania poll, but he won the Pennsylvania Republican primary over Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich by staggering margins. If you combine Cruz and Kasich’s votes, Trump still would have won by 200,000 votes.
The support in Pennsylvania isn’t unprecedented. Former Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney, John McCain and George W. Bush all garnered more votes in their respective primaries, but by the time of the Pennsylvania primary in those cases, the race had already been largely decided. Even Republican Tom Corbett garnered more votes than Trump did when the former governor ran in his first gubernatorial primary in 2010. But in the general election, independents and Democrats can theoretically vote for Trump in addition to his base.
Naturally, the Dems are pouncing.
Experts have said some Republicans are less worried about their candidates being compared to Trump and are more concerned Republican voters who don’t support Trump simply won’t vote at all. In a state like, Pennsylvania — where Democrats enjoy a voter registration advantage of about a million people, and Pennsylvania hasn’t elected a Republican presidential candidate since George H. W. Bush — Republicans not showing up to vote because they don’t like Trump would be a devastating blow to GOP candidates.
The other challenge for Republican candidates like Toomey is that voters who don’t support Trump, who has some of the highest unfavorability ratings in history, aren’t exactly likely to vote for Clinton on top of the ticket and Toomey down below.
The practice of voting for a presidential candidate from one party and a down-ballot candidate from another is known as “split-ticket voting,” and data from American National Election Studies shows split-ticket voting reached a 52-year low in 2012. Only 10 percent of voters did it in congressional races and 11 percent in Senate match-ups.
Madonna said that’s evidenced in Pennsylvania’s past elections. Democrats have traditionally done better in statewide races during presidential election years when turnout is higher and voters are less likely to split their vote between both parties, like in 2012 when Democrats won statewide races like the Office of the Attorney General the same year President Obama was running for re-election.
The good news in all this for Republicans? The party totally saw it coming.
Some strategists have predicted big GOP donors will divert their resources to tight Senate races, and Toomey already has a yuge fundraising advantage over McGinty, who spent millions on the primary while Toomey was unchallenged. (He was able to afford special *Snapchat filters* at her primary night event.)
Hours after the primary was over, the gloves were off and attack ads between McGinty, Toomey and their respective supporters from outside groups had begun. Club for Growth, a conservative tax reform group Toomey used to lead, released an ad. The Chamber of Commerce did, too. And McGinty had millions of dollars in outside support in the primary alone from both the DSCC and Emily’s List, a super PAC that aims to elect pro-choice candidates.
The national Republican party also apparently plans to run the campaigns differently than they have before. The big secret? Focus on small issues that impact voters every day rather than big nationalized rhetoric.
“We’re going to run these campaigns for Senate like they’re running for sheriff,” a Republican strategist told Roll Call. “Local, local, local.”