Pennsylvania 2016 Senate battle in national spotlight

     Sen. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa. (NewsWorks File Photo)

    Sen. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa. (NewsWorks File Photo)

    If you’re a Pennsylvania political junkie who misses the excitement of the governor’s race, you should know that national pundits are chattering about the state’s 2016 U.S. Senate race in which Republican Pat Toomey will seek re-election.

    “Conventional wisdom says Toomey is in trouble,” says Kyle Cheney in Politico. Emily Cahn in Roll Call says it’s a race to watch.  I spoke to Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, a frequently-quoted analyst, and he rates the contest at this point as “a toss-up.”

    “Right now, Pennsylvania is one of the three mostly hotly-contested and closest Senate races in the nation,” Sabato said.

    It may seem early to be talking about a 2016 race, but the Democratic primary is 16 months away, and candidates who want to give it a shot have to be thinking about it now.

    One we know about is former U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak, who lost narrowly to Toomey in 2010. He’s travelling the state and raising money for a rematch.

    Other Democrats with a statewide profile, such as former gubernatorial candidates Rob McCord and Katie McGinty are passing on this one. State Attorney General Kathleen Kane, once a rising star in the party, had a terrible 2014 and is just thinking about holding onto her own job.

    Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro is frequently mentioned as potential candidate. He’s not known statewide, but his base is here in the state’s most Democratic vote-rich media market.

    Is Toomey Toast?

    Sabato told me Toomey is part of a pack of Republican senators elected in 2010 who will face some strong headwinds in 2016.

    “He was elected narrowly in the general election,” Sabato said, “and elected, I think most people would agree because there was a Republican wave in the country as a whole.”

    2016, Sabato noted, is a presidential election year when far more Pennsylvania Democrats can be expected to vote than in 2010. Thus, he faces more of a challenge.

    Stephen Medvic, a professor of government at Franklin and Marshall College, said he thinks Toomey may be less vulnerable than some imagine.

    “Incumbency matters, for one thing,” Medvic said. “He has a lot of name recognition statewide and has raised a lot of money.”

    Further, Medvic said, Toomey, has tacked toward the center politically, so he won’t be seen as an outside-the-mainstream conservative.

    “I think he’s been actively trying to cultivate an image of himself as someone who’s conservative, certainly, but a kind of a reasonable conservative, somebody who’s willing to work with Democrats and reach across the aisle,” Medvic said.


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