There is no doubt that the Pennsylvania U.S. Senate race is one of a handful of elections likely to determine party control of the Senate, and not just because the race between incumbent Republican Pat Toomey and Democrat Katie McGinty has been in a dead heat for much of the last few months.
It’s likely to be the most expensive Senate race in the nation. The money spent by the candidates and the PACs speaks volumes on the importance of the race. In terms of total spending, it will probably end up being the costliest Senate election in Pennsylvania history.
Under normal circumstances, the race would be viewed as a contest between a conventional conservative and a conventional liberal, with an exception or two. Much has been made of Toomey’s introduction of a federal universal gun background check bill in the Senate, and for McGinty’s disagreement with Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDemocrats worry negative images are defining White House Heller won't say if Biden won election Whitmer trailing GOP challenger by 6 points in Michigan governor race: poll MORE’s use of a private computer server, what to do with Guantanamo Bay prisoners and equivocating on the sanctuary cities. However, beyond a few differences from their ideological orthodoxy, there is a clear choice for the voters in the state.
But Donald TrumpDonald TrumpCheney says a lot of GOP lawmakers have privately encouraged her fight against Trump Republicans criticizing Afghan refugees face risks DeVos says 'principles have been overtaken by personalities' in GOP MORE’s candidacy has added a major element that might determine the outcome of the election.
Toomey has not endorsed the Republican nominee for president, although on several occasions he has launched verbal attacks at him. He has refrained from saying whether he would vote for him and he has also made it clear that he would not vote for Hillary Clinton.
As a result, “Fraidy-Pat” has made an appearance from the McGinty campaign, an obvious reference to Toomey’s equivocating on Trump. She has repeatedly talked about “Toomey –Trump” on the campaign trail, and in television commercials as well. It only took minutes for McGinty to go after Toomey on Trump in the first of two televised debates.
More recently there is a new wrinkle, of course. By Trump saying he will go after congressional candidates that do not support him, Toomey has new obstacles.
How that plays out in the state remains to be seen. For Toomey the loss of support in Trump’s base could be fatal. In Pennsylvania, as well as in many other states, Trump’s core support comes from white blue-collar workers. These voters are cultural conservatives and believe that both parties and the government have left them behind in the economic recovery. This populist sentiment drives Trump’s support in the state and elsewhere.
In the Keystone State, they are a critical mass in the southwestern and northeastern parts of the state. In days gone by, coal, steel and coke production were the mainstays of the industrial revolution and the workers were a major part of the Democratic coalition.
But all that has changed. Despite a Democratic voter registration edge in six southwestern counties, the so-called rust belt in the state, Mitt Romney carried them in 2012. These voters are vital for Trump’s and Toomey’s prospects in the state.
Long before the Trump dilemma, Toomey faced another problem. He was walking the proverbial tightrope. The obstacle: how to hold onto the blue-collar voters and also do well in the Philadelphia suburban counties where a very different kind of voter lives. In the suburbs, white college-educated and white female voters are essential to any successful candidacy as well. These voters tend to be culturally liberal and made a huge difference in why the Democrats have carried the state in the past six presidential elections.
Four year ago, the Democrats captured every statewide office in Pennsylvania largely because they could dominate the Philly suburban counties where about one in five voters cast ballots in 2012.
There can be no doubt that Toomey finds Trump’s language and actions personally offensive. Make no mistake about it, regardless of its consequences, Toomey is not likely endorse Trump.
And with that decision, his electoral fate hangs in the balance.
G. Terry Madonna, Ph.D. is a Professor of Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College. He is the Director of the Franklin & Marshall College Poll, and the Director of the college’s Center for Politics and Public Affairs.
The views of Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill