Election 2017

Pat Toomey’s risky strategy to brand his opponent with #PhillyMcGinty

His campaign said the hashtag isolating Philadelphia wasn’t a slight at the city.

Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey

Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey


Republican Sen. Pat Toomey’s latest strategy for beating his Democratic challenger Katie McGinty? Tie her to Philadelphia. For the last week, Toomey and his campaign have, on several occasions, used the Twitter hashtag #PhillyMcGinty when referring to the Democrat, specifically noting her support for Mayor Jim Kenney and Philadelphia’s status as a sanctuary city.

The move that’s oddly reminiscent of Ted Cruz’ “New York values” kerfuffle didn’t go over so well once Philadelphia (specifically Philadelphia Democrats) caught wind of the campaign’s newest hashtag.

Toomey’s spokesman Ted Kwong said the messaging was not meant to be a slight at Philadelphia or its residents, but rather at McGinty, who was born in raised in the city.

“Between saying voters outside of Philadelphia in the ‘T’ of Pennsylvania were particularly misinformed and defending Mayor Jim Kenney’s extreme and dangerous sanctuary city policy, Katie McGinty has shown she’s just another machine politician who is out of touch with Pennsylvania as a whole,” he said in an email.

Naturally, McGinty’s campaign slammed the, er, nickname saying Toomey “has turned to the Trump playbook of insults.”

“Pat Toomey is supposed to be a proud representative for all Pennsylvanians in the U.S. Senate,” McGinty spokesman Josh Levitt said, “but instead he decided to use the Commonwealth’s largest city — where 1.6 million of his constituents live — as a punch line.”

Larry Ceisler, a Philadelphia-based political strategist and principal of Ceisler Communications, said Pennsylvania Republicans often utilize a “time-honored tradition” of tying Democrats to Philly. He said the move to isolate the city of Philadelphia in campaign materials or on social media isn’t usually done without some sort of polling or research to back it up, but it does have the potential to backfire.

“If his campaign… takes a shot at McGinty for being partial to Philadelphia, does the inverse say that Toomey does not care about Philadelphia?” he said. “That’s sort of the chance that you take.”

Sure, Toomey represents Philadelphia now as the incumbent senator and he’s from the Lehigh Valley. But the Republican doesn’t exactly need Philadelphia to win statewide re-election, as the Democratic base is concentrated here where voter registration is nearly 8 to 1 in favor of the Dems.

When Toomey won statewide in 2010 — a non-presidential election year that probably had lower turnout than this year will — he beat Democrat Joe Sestak by just two points statewide but only won 15 percent of the vote in Philadelphia. He and Sestak split the four counties surrounding Philly. Toomey fared much better in the “T” portion of the state, or the areas that are not Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Former Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican who also won statewide election in 2010, took 17 percent of the votes in Philly and also won Chester and Bucks… while losing in Delaware and Montgomery counties. Things could be different though this year, as it’s a presidential election year and Democrats enjoy a voter registration advantage of nearly a million people statewide. With Donald Trump on the top of the ticket, experts say Toomey will work to localize the election specific to Pennsylvania as much as possible.

Ceisler, who is originally from south Pittsburgh, said there’s an inherent bias against Philadelphia in many parts of the state. Tying McGinty exclusively to Philadelphia could work — or it could engender resentment for Toomey in the city and its suburbs.

“The fact of the matter is the Toomey campaign, just like the McGinty campaign, they have unlimited funds,” he said. “So they’re going to throw everything at each other that they can throw. Some will stick, some won’t stick.

“I don’t think this one sticks.”

Want some more? Explore other Election 2017 stories.

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