Toomey victory aided by Trump wave, swing voters
HARRISBURG — Republican Pat Toomey’s capture of a second term to the U.S. Senate defied a registration deficit for his party in Democratic-leaning Pennsylvania with the help of a surge of unexpected support for GOP President-elect Donald Trump and a carefully crafted appeal to suburban swing voters.
Toomey beat Democrat Katie McGinty in a down-to-the-wire race that also helped Republicans keep control of the Senate. The fiscal hawk had been one of the most vulnerable Republican senators running for re-election, especially after compiling one of Congress’ most conservative voting records.
The often-ugly race smashed U.S. Senate campaign finance records, with spending on it passing $160 million since the beginning of last year.
Toomey told a cheering crowd in a hotel near his Allentown-area home after 1:30 a.m. Wednesday that he was “deeply humbled” by the victory and laid out his agenda anew for another six-year term.
“I don’t think the government should be wasting as much money as it wastes,” Toomey said. “I don’t think it should be spending as much of your money as it spends. I don’t think taxes should be as high as they are. I don’t think the federal government should be stifling our economy by over-regulating businesses. I don’t think Washington should be making health care decisions for all of us. And I don’t think Washington should be making the job of law enforcement more difficult than it already is.”
Toomey won, 49 percent to 47 percent, a slightly wider margin than Trump’s 49 percent to 48 percent victory in the state over Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Toomey, 54, leaned heavily on his willingness to buck the Republican Party, including on the hot-button issue of expanding background checks on firearms purchases. He fought off Democrats’ efforts to tie him to Trump and positioned himself as the candidate more likely to seek compromise in a polarized Washington. McGinty, he had maintained, would be a “rubber stamp” for Clinton.
He never campaigned with Trump, and sought aggressively to court Democrats and independents to overcome the GOP’s registration deficit in Pennsylvania.
Toomey performed substantially better than Trump in Philadelphia’s heavily populated and moderate suburbs, where Trump lost heavily. Not since 1976 has a presidential candidate captured Pennsylvania without winning the collective four-county vote in Philadelphia’s growing suburbs.
For months, Republicans had worried a backlash against Trump would doom Toomey, and Toomey himself had suggested in recent days that he expected Clinton to beat Trump. But Toomey benefited handsomely from the stunning wave of support for Trump, both in conservative areas and in blue-collar counties that had backed Democrats in the past.
Perhaps the best illustration was Luzerne County in northeastern Pennsylvania. President Barack Obama won the county narrowly in 2012, but Clinton lost it by almost 20 percentage points.
Toomey also kept two surprises for late in the campaign.
He aired an 11th-hour TV ad in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with 2013 footage of Obama — often the target of Toomey’s toughest criticism — praising Toomey for his party-crossing vote on background checks legislation, despite the bill’s failure.
Then, after spending months criticizing Trump, but not entirely disavowing the GOP’s standard bearer, Toomey waited until the polls nearly closed to reveal who he voted for in the presidential race: Trump.
McGinty, who has never held an elected public office, was recruited to run by top Washington Democrats. She lacked name recognition, but Democrats had hoped a massive wave of spending from party allies and Democrats’ 4-to-3 registration advantage over Republicans could deliver victory.
McGinty, who had worked in Bill Clinton’s White House, aligned herself with Hillary Clinton and piggybacked on the heavy schedule of campaign visits by her and other top Democrats to the presidential battleground state.
In other contests:
r Democrats swept three races for statewide office, with Josh Shapiro taking over the scandal-marred Pennsylvania attorney’s general’s office to be the state’s top law enforcement officer; Joe Torsella winning a treasurer’s office that’s also been marred by corruption; and Eugene DePasquale winning re-election to auditor general.
r Pennsylvanians also expanded Republican control of the state Legislature, maintained the GOP’s 13-5 margin in U.S. House seats and approved a referendum to raise the retirement age for judges, from 70 to 75.