Senate candidates Toomey, Sestak try to tie each other with 'extremist' label

PHILADELPHIA -- In Pennsylvania's Senate race, both candidates have tried to tie the "extremist" label to the opposition in the hopes of drumming up support among centrists, particularly in the crucial Philadelphia suburbs.

Republican Pat Toomey accuses his opponent of aiding and abetting out of control spending in Washington while bowing to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).


Democrat Joe Sestak labels his rival a right-wing extremist who promotes policies that favor wealthy corporate interests over average Americans.

The theme was on full display Friday night, during the final debate between the two before Election Day.

"He's so extreme, he is to the left of Nancy Pelosi on these things," Toomey said of Sestak's support for the stimulus program and a Democratic economic agenda the Republican claims is stifling economic growth.

Sestak countered by saying Toomey is "on the fringe of his party" and tied his opponent to some of the Club for Growth's past campaigns against centrist Republicans as proof that Toomey would be unable to work across the aisle. Toomey is the organization's former president.

The candidates were challenged on the labels each has attempted to saddle their opponent with, but neither backed down. Toomey said his consistent use of the term extreme is a conscious choice and an appropriate one given Sestak's voting record.

At one point in Friday's debate, Toomey began a statement characterizing his opponent with the words, "more extreme, very extreme…"

Sestak tried to distance himself from Pelosi, touting the vote he cast last month against adjourning the House without taking up an extension of the Bush-era tax cuts. "The speaker of the House had to come to the floor to break that tie because of my vote," proclaimed Sestak.

Sestak and Toomey are in a dead heat heading into the final week of a Senate race that has become a must-win for both parties.

Millions in outside dollars are pouring into the state, much of the spending from groups like Club for Growth and American for Tax Reform, which are spending to buck up Toomey's bid.

The race has also vaulted to the top of the list for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which has spent some $6 million in the state, according to independent expenditure reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.

A new Rasmussen poll out Friday reflected what other polls have shown in the past week: Sestak is closing in on Toomey, who had maintained a solid lead in the polls throughout the summer and most of the fall. Rasmussen puts Toomey's lead at just four points. A Quinnipiac poll released earlier this week showed Sestak within three points.

For Toomey, running statewide in Pennsylvania in any other year would prove tough for the former congressman -- he is a staunch social conservative in a state that has been trending blue. Thanks to the Obama campaign's voter registration efforts during the 2008 presidential race, Democrats now hold a commanding registration edge in the state and that could be the key for Sestak down the stretch.

If Sestak can find a way to energize the base, Democrats are convinced the party's inherent advantages in the state will kick in and push Sestak over the top.

A heavily unionized state, labor plays a huge role in get out the vote operations across Pennsylvania and is spending heavily to mobilize Democratic voters. If Democratic turnout is heavy in Philadelphia and its closest suburbs, where Democrats outnumber Republicans, party strategists say Sestak can likely hold Toomey off.

Both candidates are making a play for centrist voters in Philadelphia's suburbs, where Toomey rallied with former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani Friday.

Giuliani headlined an event at a firehouse in Montgomery County, noting his kinship with Toomey on fiscal issues and warning that the Obama administration and Democratic leadership in Congress are pursuing policies that will ultimately morph the U.S. into "one of those European socialist democracies."

Giuliani labeled Sestak "more extreme" than President Obama and Pelosi and said casting a vote for Toomey next month will help deliver a much needed "correction to the Obama-Pelosi-Reid agenda."

The voters in Philadelphia's suburbs, particularly Bucks and Montgomery counties, are key to any statewide race in Pennsylvania, housing plenty of centrist Democrats.

It's why Sestak has been increasingly aggressive in painting Toomey as an extremist -- a member of the "Santorum-O'Donnell-Palin wing" of the GOP, as one Democratic strategist put it.

Democrats think Delaware's Republican Senate nominee is part of the reason for Sestak's surge among his base and in Philly's suburbs. The race between Republican Christine O'Donnell and Democrat Chris CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsCentrist Democrats seize on state election wins to rail against Warren's agenda Bill Gates visits Capitol to discuss climate change with new Senate caucus The Memo: ISIS leader's death is no game-changer for Trump MORE has grabbed plenty of headlines in the Philadelphia media market and Sestak has repeatedly mentioned Toomey and O'Donnell in the same breath on the campaign trail during the past week.

Democrats have also upped the pressure on Toomey over his endorsement from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, which Toomey tried to sidestep after Friday's event with Giuliani.

Asked whether he thought Palin's endorsement helped his campaign, Toomey was noncommittal.

"I'm delighted to have endorsements from Rudy Giuliani, [former Gov.] Tom Ridge, the [former] Democratic Mayor of Harrisburg, Stephen Reed," Toomey said. "Anyone who wants to support my campaign and endorse my candidacy, I'm grateful for."

In a debate with Sestak on Wednesday, Toomey punted on the question of whether Palin was qualified to be president, noting he has support from leaders "across the political spectrum."

Asked again on Friday whether Palin was qualified to serve in the nation's highest office, Toomey said, "I don't decide whose qualified for office, the voters decide."

"If she gets elected to office, that means she's qualified and that's the case with anyone else running for office," he added.