Setting the Stage
The Republican National Convention, where the party will nominate presumptive nominee Donald Trump to the Republican ticket, is this week. The unpopularity of the candidate (RealClearPolitics has Trumps’ national favorability at an average of 33.7%) puts several swing state senators in a tough spot for reelection. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania is one of those most at risk. Pennsylvania has been fairly divided down the middle between the two major parties, but has leaned Democratic in every presidential election for nearly thirty years. Toomey will confront those odds, likely unaided by the historically unpopular candidate also campaigning for the state’s support at the top of the ticket.
Democrats are aware of this fact, and very eager to support Toomey’s challenger, Katie McGinty, whose most notable positions include serving as Chief of Staff to Gov. Tom Wolf, Pennsylvania Environmental Protection Secretary, and Environmental Advisor to Bill Clinton. Her victory would bring two blue senators from Pennsylvania to Washington, as she would join Sen. Bob Casey, Jr, who beat out former Sen. Rick Santorum for the other seat in 2006. McGinty has the full, coordinated power of Democratic super PACs willing to write blank checks to gain a senate majority once more, as well as the advantage of the Democratic tilt the state has displayed in national elections.
However, Toomey, a favorite of the GOP establishment in DC, has his own fair share of financial support from super PACs in this race. Whether they can be as succinct on messaging as the Democrats, considering Trump will have his own agenda in Pennsylvania, is the true question. While recent polling suggests Pennsylvania is leaning towards supporting both Toomey and Trump, the state will be bombarded with Democratic advertising in the fall between the senate race and the presidential where pro-Clinton advertisers have already reserved $3.4 million of air time. Toomey and his supporting groups will likely need to walk a fine line in messaging as they seek to gain the support of Trump votes while still defining Toomey and his experience apart from Trump in the minds of voters.
Money & Issues
Sen. Toomey’s war chest has over $8 million more in cash on hand than McGinty’s, who just finished a tough primary and is trying to recoup her financial power. Right now, she is relying on the backing of Democratic issue groups, namely Senate Majority PAC, AFSCME, and Majority Forward, who have injected a combined $4.4 million of media buys into the state since June.
Markedly, none of the ads run by these groups are positive spots focused on McGinty. The focus instead zeroes in on the shortcomings of Senator Toomey which center largely around his ties to Wall Street. More specifically, Toomey’s connections with lobbyists/big business and the involvement they have in campaign contributions, as well as the tax breaks for those wealthy corporations. He was a banker and stock broker before the recession and Democrats are accusing him of still endorsing practices that led to the financial crisis the nation is still coping with today. With McGinty’s short political resume, it should come as no surprise that Democratic groups are focused on Toomey, but they will eventually need to shift their messaging from why Toomey is unfit for office, to why McGinty would be an improvement.
Even with these issue groups coming to McGinty’s aid, she is still being outspent by around $3 million in ad placement by Toomey and his supporting groups. One Nation PAC alone has spent $2.6 million on positive messaging reflecting Toomey’s legislative experience on sex offender registration and sanctuary city regulations. Freedom Partners Action Fund has spent $1.9 million hitting McGinty on the inevitable job losses which will occur due to decreasing natural gas production, which they claim her environmentalist ties will encourage. Additionally, the US Chamber of Commerce has put in $1.2 million to lambast her support for tax increases, views on energy and early exit from state budget negotiations.
Currently, 55% of Republican ad placement in this race is negative while 45% has been pro-Toomey. Republican media has taken up about 57%of the overall ad time between the two parties since June, giving them a larger share of voice (SOV) in the state. They have the largest SOV in every market aside from heavily Democratic Philadelphia, where they sit at 36% SOV overall.
A few ads from both parties have been regionalized, rather than aired throughout the state. The US Chamber of Commerce ran an ad in the Pittsburgh market against McGinty’s views on energy and the end result that will have on jobs in Pennsylvania. McGinty’s environmental record could cause her issues in the western side of the state and Pittsburgh where natural gas extraction has led to an economic upturn for a region still reeling from the loss of mining and manufacturing jobs. Conversely, the Democratic stronghold of Philadelphia was targeted by Planned Parenthood for an attack on Toomey’s views on the organization.
Spending from the campaigns themselves has been limited so far, with each candidate preparing for a fall. While McGinty’s campaign has been concerned with fundraising and rebuilding their war chest, Toomey’s campaign spent over $600k on negative advertising running through early July, hitting McGinty on sanctuary cities, an issue where Toomey finds himself aligned with Donald Trump. McGinty’s campaign has pre-booked just short of $2 million worth of air time from August to November, compared to $1.65 million from Toomey, also set to air August through November. PACs have also started pre-booking for the fall, with the Democrats reserving $19.8 million to the Republicans $15.2 million, currently putting McGinty about $5 million ahead of Toomey.
Looking to the Fall
While limited, current polling for the race indicates a toss-up, with Toomey up by a single point with a margin of error of 3.1 (RealClearPolitics). The influence of the presidential race may be the deciding factor. Trump trails Clinton nationally by a 2.7 point average, but recent polling suggests he may be pulling into the lead in Pennsylvania. A recent Quinnipiac poll put Trump ahead of Clinton by 7 points. It is too soon to tell if this is a change in trend or an anomaly, as he still trails her by 3.2 overall.
In order to win a state with nearly one million more Democratic voters than Republicans, Toomey will likely need to convince voters to split the ticket, potentially bringing Clinton supporters to his side. How he will differ from Donald Trump and whether he can succeed in distancing himself from the presidential candidate remains to be seen.