The Democrat trying to unseat U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania is casting herself as a more mainstream alternative to the incumbent.
While Katie McGinty has been campaigning all year, the pivotal race could come down to the length of the presidential candidates’ coattails.
“I hope that Philadelphia will send Katie McGinty on behalf of Pennsylvania to the United States Senate,” declared Hillary Clinton during a recent speech in Philadelphia. The Democratic presidential candidate reminded the crowd that McGinty would be the first woman to represent Pennsylvania in the Senate.
“I’ve known Katie for a long time. She’s the daughter of a Philadelphia police officer, one of 10,” said Clinton. “Now, why is that important? You have to get along with people, and if you are one of 10, I think she will do a pretty good job getting along with the other senators and getting things done for you.”
McGinty said she’s looking to be part of a historic night on Tuesday.
“Some in the audience will remember some of those Kmart blue light specials,” she said. “I’d appreciate if we’d do a ‘two-for- one’ when we are working to shatter that White House glass ceiling. Will you join me in shattering that Senate glass ceiling as well?”
Northeast Philly roots
McGinty, who grew up in Northeast Philadelphia, ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2014. She previously chaired the White House Council on Environmental Quality when Bill Clinton was president.
On the state level, she served as the secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection and was Gov. Tom Wolf’s chief of staff.
Donna Cooper, who worked in Harrisburg with McGinty, said she was relentless in forming very complicated alliances to get things done.
“I can remember that when we were trying to regulate emissions, there were industry concerns, and there were obviously public health concerns associated with cleaning up the air,” Cooper said. “And what Katie was able to do was to really identify the areas where the industry and public health experts could come together — and also identify the areas where the industry was not eager to move as public health experts wanted them to move and to find ways to incrementally meet the needs of public health and bring the industry along.”
Longtime political analyst Larry Ceisler said McGinty’s Northeast Philadelphia roots have come through as she’s navigated the campaign trail.
“She’s still not a polished candidate, when you watch her compared to other people,” he said. “But I think that goes to show she’s a very genuine type person. Katie has an infectious personality. She’s just very bright, and she’s very empathetic.”
Addressing those ads
McGinty’s experience in government and in the private sector has become an attack point for the Toomey campaign. Multiple ads — some from Toomey and some from independent groups — have accused her of securing lucrative board posts after leaving the Department of Environmental Protection with companies that agency regulated.
When pressed to respond to those accusations, McGinty said most businesses in Pennsylvania must interact with the department.
“The Department of Environmental Protection has expansive jurisdiction. If you are a business anywhere near the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, you have operations of any kind, it is almost certain that you are under the perview of the Department of Environmental Protection, almost certain,” she said.
The Toomey campaign has also attacked McGinty for backing Wolf’s proposal to hike sales and income taxes in order to help local governments lower property taxes. The ads claim it would have been the biggest tax hike “in decades.”
But the ads never mention the property tax cuts that were also part of the plan. And the proposal did not make it through the state Legislature.
The ‘Donald Trump effect’
Ken Smukler, a political operative for decades, said McGinty’s chances of unseating the first-term Toomey are tied closely to Hillary Clinton’s performance in Pennsylvania, which is nothing new for candidates in presidential years.
“If Trump keeps this race within a 5- to 7- to 8-point range, then my guess is that Toomey might be able to pull it out,” Smukler said. “I look at it at very much like Lynn Yeakel’s race against Arlen Specter when Bill Clinton was leading the ticket in 1992. Clinton was able to pull some House candidates through in the suburbs of Philadelphia, when Yeakel still lost by a point.”
Ceisler said this Senate race is heavily influenced by the “Donald Trump effect.”
“I think, in any other year, my hunch is that Pat Toomey would be pretty confident in being re-elected,” he said. “This is not the year.”
McGinty seems to have the same opinion. For much of the fall, she has been pressing Toomey to take a stand on whether he will vote for Trump. And while Toomey has been unwilling to give a definitive answer, McGinty has continued hammering at what she calls the “Trump Toomey ticket.”