Pennsylvania GOP senator on collision course with Trump
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Republican Sen. Pat Toomey’s reelection bid is on a collision course with the most dominant force in GOP politics.

The biggest challenge to Toomey’s reelection might not be Democrats, but Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpJimmy Carter: 'I hope there's an age limit' on presidency White House fires DHS general counsel: report Trump to cap California trip with visit to the border MORE, who is inching closer to the GOP presidential nomination.

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Toomey has publicly created space between his campaign and Trump.

After a local radio host told Toomey that Katie McGinty, his Democratic opponent, said she would be running against a Toomey-Trump “bigotry” ticket, he fired back that her suggestion was “pretty outrageous actually.”

He then noted that he initially endorsed Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioRepublicans wary of US action on Iran California poll: Biden, Sanders lead Democratic field; Harris takes fifth The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation MORE (Fla.) for the GOP nomination, before voting for Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzDemocrats seize Senate floor to protest gun inaction: 'Put up or shut up' Prospects for Trump gun deal grow dimmer Ted Cruz knocks New York Times for 'stunning' correction on Kavanaugh report MORE (R-Texas) in this week’s Pennsylvania primary after Rubio dropped out of the race.

Toomey says he will back Trump if the businessman is the GOP nominee.

“Donald Trump was not my first choice. He wasn’t my second choice. But, you know, I don’t want to see Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGOP struggles with retirement wave Overnight Energy: Trump to revoke California's tailpipe waiver | Democrats propose bill to revoke Trump endangered species rollback | Trump officials finalize rule allowing fewer inspectors at pork plants Mark Mellman: The most important moment in history? MORE take this country further to the left,” Toomey told a local radio station this week.

A GOP presidential candidate hasn’t carried Pennsylvania since 1988, so Toomey always knew his 2016 bid could be difficult.

Having Trump at the top of the ticket, however, opens a whole new set of problems.

Trump has high disapproval ratings with the national electorate, and with women in particular. Toomey will have to figure out how to deal with that reality on the campaign trail.

At the same time, it could be difficult to run too far from Trump, both because of the businessman’s penchant for going after GOP politicians who bicker with him, and because it could turn off Trump supporters in the state that Toomey will need in his corner.

Toomey’s campaign is focused on touting his Senate record and attacking McGinty and likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Ted Kwong, a spokesman for Toomey’s campaign, said the Pennsylvania Republican “has a reputation as one of the hardest working and most bipartisan senators.”

“That is far more appealing to voters than Katie McGinty's record, which is defined by hyperpartisan gridlock in Harrisburg, using government connections to enrich herself and her friends, and high-profile ethics problems,” he added, in a statement to The Hill.

The day after McGinty won the Democratic nomination—and Trump carried the state—Toomey’s campaign released a memo previewing their strategy heading into November.

The nine-page memo also lays the groundwork for an argument that Pennsylvania Republicans say is entirely plausible: That Hillary Clinton carries the state but Toomey wins his reelection bid.

“Pennsylvanians have a history of electing senators from one party and presidents from another,” the memo notes.

Toomey’s campaign is also building up a war chest to help him break through the election year noise. He has more than $9 million in the bank, according the latest Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings. McGinty, by comparison, has more than $953,000 after weathering a months-long primary fight.

But creating a firewall between his race and the presidential election may prove an impossible feat.

“Ultimately it's going to be a lot about Toomey, McGinty and Donald Trump. That's the reality that's coming down the pipe,” said Chris Borick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania. “Trump will cast an enormous shadow"

Toomey went up on the air early, launching his first TV ad in late June, and leads in the polls, but his race is widely regarded a toss up.

The nonpartisan Cook Report outlined Toomey’s advantages Friday but noted “that might not mean much in a presidential year.”

Meanwhile, the Virginia-based “Sabato’s Crystal Ball,” moved Toomey’s race into the toss up category this month, over “the potential for the GOP nominee to drag down Toomey.”

Underscoring the potential threat posed by Trump, the group created a separate outlook for how his winning the nomination could impact the battle for the Senate. Under that scenario—entitled “Trumpmare”—Toomey’s seat is rated likely Democrat.

Toomey will likely have help trying to carve out distance with Trump.

The Club for Growth—formally headed by Toomey— has made Trump a top target throughout the presidential primary, arguing he’s not a true conservative. It also released its first ad against McGinty this week.

Toomey could also try to distance himself from Trump if the unpredictable firebrand becomes a liability for down ballot Republicans, as Democrats hope he will. The two Republicans differ not only in style—Trump is brash while Toomey is known for his caution—but on policy.

Trump pressured Republicans to reject Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), legislation that allows trade deals to get fast-tracked through the Senate with 51 votes, saying they should “protect the American worker and manufacturer!”

Toomey backed TPA. At the time, he said it’s a “commonsense measure will ensure that America can negotiate and approve the best possible trade agreements.”

Strategists, however, say Toomey’s best bet is not to directly engage Trump—who tends to be adversarial when challenged—but stay focused on his record and trying to define McGinty.

Charlie Gerow, a Pennsylvania GOP consultant, said “it benefits Pat Toomey to stand on his own record and his own strength regardless of who the presidential nominee is."

The wildcard nature of Trump and the presidential primary has national Republicans trying to drive a wedge between the battle for the Senate and the presidential race. 

Senate Republican leadership, for example, has largely sidestepped the presidential race, instead focused on defending 24 Senate seats in November.

It’s a message that Karl Rove sought to drive home in a fundraising email for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

“The race for the White House has dominated the media spotlight for some time now,” he wrote in an email Friday. “[But] no matter what happens with the presidential race, Republicans must maintain their Senate majority.”