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Pennsylvania Senate race could hinge on presidential stakes

Written by The Associated Press | Nov 8, 2016 2:38 PM
toomey_mcginty.jpg

Photo by AP Photo/Matt Rourke

In this combination of photos shows Pennsylvania U.S. Senate candidates Democrat Katie McGinty, left, in Philadelphia, and Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2016, in Villanova, Pa.

(Undated) -- The most expensive political race in U.S. Senate history, Pennsylvania's contest between Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey and Democratic challenger Katie McGinty, could help decide control of the chamber.

A Toomey win would help the GOP in its goal of holding onto its 54-46 Senate majority, but the presidential race between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump stands to influence the outcome.

Independent political strategists have predicted that the presidential election will have the biggest impact on the fortunes of McGinty and Toomey, as well as other down-ballot candidates, because most voters tend to vote straight party line after they check the box in the top-of-the-ballot presidential race.

Most polls have shown Clinton leading Trump by a low single-digit percentage-point margin in Pennsylvania, where Democrats hold a voter registration edge of 4-to-3, but the race between Toomey and McGinty appeared to be neck and neck.

Toomey is one of the most vulnerable Senate incumbents. The fiscal hawk is running for a second term after compiling one of Congress' most conservative voting records.

By Tuesday afternoon, Toomey had not voted, nor had he revealed who he will vote for in the presidential race, and he did not plan to do so until shortly before polls close. McGinty has sought to make Toomey's middle-of-the-road stance on Trump into a high-profile campaign issue, accusing Toomey of talking out of both sides of his mouth on Trump, refusing to embrace Trump but also refusing to completely reject Trump as have some Republican members of Congress.

On Tuesday morning, McGinty greeted cheering supporters before she cast her ballot alongside her husband and three daughters at Our Lady of the Assumption Church in the Philadelphia suburb of Wayne.

"Come on, Senator Toomey, let us know: Are you standing with Donald Trump or not?" McGinty told reporters. "It's long, long past due for (him) to have stood up for what's right ... and denounced Donald Trump. It's really, actually, too late."

McGinty has allied herself closely with Clinton; Toomey has entirely rejected Clinton, but he has not rejected the idea of voting for Trump, even though he has not endorsed or campaigned with Trump.

In an illustration of Toomey's challenge to get re-elected in Democratic-leaning Pennsylvania, Toomey has sought to parlay his arm's-length distance from Trump and a party-crossing vote on background checks on firearms purchases into support from moderate voters, particularly in the crucial Philadelphia suburbs.

Toomey is even running a TV ad in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with 2013 footage of Obama -- often the target of Toomey's toughest criticism -- praising Toomey for his work on the background checks legislation, despite the bill's failure.

Meanwhile, he has characterized McGinty as a "rubber stamp" for a Clinton White House.

In a sign of the race's national importance, it has smashed U.S. Senate campaign finance records, with more than $160 million spent on it, according to Federal Election Commission records.

McGinty, who has never held public office, is trying to become Pennsylvania's first female U.S. senator. The 53-year-old worked in Bill Clinton's White House and was recruited by top Washington Democrats to challenge Toomey.

Toomey, 54, also served three terms in U.S. Congress from the Allentown area.

McGinty is backed by public-sector unions, the AFL-CIO, abortion-rights activists and environmental advocacy groups. Toomey is backed by business advocacy organizations, police unions, anti-abortion rights activists and conservative fiscal policy groups.

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