Weekly Toomey protests could give Democrats a boost in 2018

 Protesters gather outside the U.S. Custom House where U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania has his Philadelphia office. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Protesters gather outside the U.S. Custom House where U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania has his Philadelphia office. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Almost every week, Terry Baraldi uses her Medicare card to get a discounted $1 train ride from her home in Landsdowne, Delaware County, to Center City.

She has become a regular protester with the “Tuesdays with Toomey” group, which has been staging protests outside the Republican U.S. senator’s Philadelphia office for more than eight months now. The group has also helped flood Toomey’s office with calls, emails and faxes and has expanded to other cities, including Pittsburgh, Allentown and Wilkes-Barre.

It all began with a small group of women angered by Toomey’s unwillingness to say whether he would vote for Donald Trump in November. Since then, the group has moved on to issues such as poverty, education, Trump’s nominees and the Republican plan to replace the Affordable Care Act. Toomey helped craft the Senate’s bill, including a 25 percent cut in federal funding for Medicaid over the next decade that would shift the cost burden to states.

Holding up a sign saying “Revolting Granny” and “hands off” Medicare and Medicaid, Baraldi, a retired office worker, is optimistic the weekly lunchtime rallies are working.

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“We have to believe that they are,” she said. “Yes, there are days when you’re frustrated and we haven’t seen the needle move one little inch on Sen. Toomey, but look around. Every person driving past us has gotten sick at some point in their life, has needed a doctor.”

Russell Elliott, a retired social worker from Philadelphia, estimated that he’s been to 10 of these protests. When asked if he thinks the rallies are making a difference, he paused.

“You know, it’s hard to tell,” he said after a moment. “I think it’s too early to tell. I’m afraid they’re not making enough difference to stop the passage.”

Toomey and other Republicans are intent on replacing the existing health care law, and Elliot said he doubts they will pay attention to liberal protesters.

But there is at least one politician who may be affected by their actions.

While, Toomey isn’t up for re-election for more than five years, his Democratic counterpart, Bob Casey, will be running next year.

The two-term incumbent will be tough to beat, said Franklin & Marshall College political analyst Terry Madonna. But if the Republicans put up a competitive candidate — such as U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, who says he will decide soon if he plans to run — Casey could use the help.

“The Democrats through this activism are keeping their base with substantial motivation, and that aspect is important,” Madonna said.

The scale won’t be tipped by protests, he said, but it could if those protesters get their friends and neighbors to the polls — and if the ardent Trump supporters who came out for him in November don’t return in as great a number in 2018.

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