U.S. Senate hopefuls kick race into high gear with Philadelphia events

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    Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey (left) and Democratic Senate candidate Katie McGinty hit the campaign trail in Philadelphia. Toomey visited a family-owned market in Northeast Philadelphia while McGinty spoke at the Sheet Metal Workers union hall in South Philadelphia. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

    Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey (left) and Democratic Senate candidate Katie McGinty hit the campaign trail in Philadelphia. Toomey visited a family-owned market in Northeast Philadelphia while McGinty spoke at the Sheet Metal Workers union hall in South Philadelphia. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

    As the fall campaign season officially gets underway, both candidates in Pennsylvania’s closely watched U.S. Senate campaign made appearances in Philadelphia Tuesday. The events say something about the race to come.

    Democratic challenger Katie McGinty’s post-Labor Day kick-off event wasn’t a policy press conference. It was a rally at a South Philadelphia union hall attended by more than 100 Democratic ward leaders, election officials, and labor activists.

    This crowd matters to McGinty — a lot. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 900,000 in Pennsylvania, but many of those would-be voters have a history of staying home on Election Day.

    Presidential years are more favorable terrain for Democrats, here, and McGinty needs to make sure she racks up huge margins in Philadelphia.

    So she had city Democratic Party Chairman Bob Brady there to send his ward leaders a message. “We can do it. It’s in this room right here!” Brady said. “This room right here will elect Katie McGinty the next United States senator. Make no bones about it! Anybody who knows politics will tell you that!”

    When McGinty spoke, she made sure to link her opponent, Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, with his party’s controversial presidential nominee.

    “Now what about the Trump-Toomey team? I don’t know what planet they’re living on,” McGinty said, starting on a series of attacks on Toomey, bringing Trump’s name in on every reference.

    Toomey’s dance

    Donald Trump is a delicate matter for Toomey.

    He doesn’t want to be closely associated with him, but he doesn’t want to offend Trump’s supporters either. So he says he has reservations about the GOP presidential nominee, and he’s waiting to be convinced that he should endorse him.

    McGinty addressed that subject in an exchange with reporters Tuesday.

    “It’s just not credible that a sitting United States senator has not heard enough from Donald Trump to make up his mind,” she said. “I do think the voters of Pennsylvania deserve Sen. Toomey to be candid and frank with them and stop trying to pull the wool over their eyes. Are you for Donald Trump or not?”

    A couple of hours later and a few miles north, Toomey held a news conference in a Northeast Philadelphia grocery store to talk about middle class tax policy — his good, McGinty’s bad. When he finished, Vernon Odom of 6ABC asked the first question — about Trump.

    “I thought we were having a discussion about tax policy,” Toomey quipped, before entertaining the subject.

    Toomey said he’s encouraged by some things he’s seen from Trump, such as his list of potential Supreme Court nominees. “

    That’s encouraging. His selection of Mike Pence was a very good choice for a vice presidential nominee, so that’s encouraging,” Toomey said. “So, as I say, I’m, I’m waiting to be persuaded.”

    I asked if he planned to make a decision before the race is over. Yes, he said, but he couldn’t say when.

    “Circumstances change over time, so we’ll keep an eye on it as it develops,” he said.

    Suburban play

    Why was Toomey in Philadelphia, the state’s most overwhelmingly Democratic county?

    Events here are covered in the media market that includes the Philadelphia suburbs, a crucial battleground in the race.

    Toomey wants moderate and independent voters in the ‘burbs to see him as an open-minded, pragmatic leader who’ll work with Democrats to do the right thing.

    He appeared at Keller’s, small grocery store owned by a Korean-American family, to say he’s helped small businesses and hard-working taxpayers.

    “I worked across the aisle with Democratic senators to pass legislation to allow small businesses to expense capital purchases, so if a business like this goes out and goes out and buys a new walk-in cooler, they get to expense that when they buy it rather than depreciate it over many years,” he said.

    The candidates said many things about how they’d supported the middle class while their opponent shamefully neglects their interests.

    We’ll hear plenty of from them and independent groups that will flood TV screens with negative ads over the next two months. Polls show the race is close.

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