5 takeaways from the Pa. Senate debate

5 takeaways from the Pa. Senate debate
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GOP Sen. Pat Toomey and his Democrat Katie McGinty squared off Monday night in their final debate, with the White House fight looming large over the critical race.

The polls remain tight going into the final two weeks of the Senate campaign, with the RealClearPolitics polling average showing Toomey up 1.8 points Monday, and there was no shortage of fireworks between the candidates. 

Here are the five takeaways from the final debate in a race that will likely help decide which party holds the Senate next year:

 

Toomey can’t escape Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpRussian sanctions will boomerang States, cities rethink tax incentives after Amazon HQ2 backlash A Presidents Day perspective on the nature of a free press MORE questions

The GOP presidential nominee continues to haunt the Pennsylvania Senate race as Toomey remains on the fence about whether he will vote for Trump in November. 

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The Pennsylvania senator sidestepped multiple questions about whether he has made up his mind on his party’s nominee, or if he will tell voters who he’ll support ahead of Nov. 8.

"I don't think my constituents care that much [about] how one person is going to vote," he said as part of remarks that were quickly blasted out by Democrats.  

Toomey is the only GOP senator up for reelection who has not said if he will support Trump, despite disagreeing with his numerous controversial statements.

Instead, Toomey tried to highlight both positives and negatives of Trump, saying he disagrees with him on some policies but pledging they could find areas of agreement if Trump wins the White House. 

"There are a lot of things that concern me a great about Donald Trump," he said. "[But] he would probably sign a bill repealing ObamaCare, which we badly need." 

McGinty accused Toomey of trying to play voters on both sides of the aisle by changing his rhetoric depending on what part of Pennsylvania he is in. 

"In politics, the definition of courage and character is doing what's right even it costs you votes," she said. "And senator, you have failed that test." 

 

McGinty not worried about being linked to Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe Democratic demolition derby Juan Williams: Don't count Biden out Candidates in Obama's orbit fail to capitalize on personal ties MORE 

McGinty has closely associated herself with the Democratic standard-bearer, and Monday’s debate was no exception. 

Clinton has consistently led the polls in the Keystone State, making it an easy decision for the down-ballot Democrat.

“I do stand with Secretary Clinton, because she’s focused on standing up for families and rebuilding the middle class,” McGinty said.

When the moderator asked if she had any disagreements with the former secretary of State, McGinty came up with just one example: opposition to closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

“I agree that it was wrong to set up Guantanamo Bay,” McGinty said. “But I can’t today say that we should close Guantanamo Bay because I’m concerned that we have those that would return to the battlefield against us.”

But even after noting that difference of position, McGinty quickly added a complimentary line about Clinton. 

“But I know this: Secretary Clinton will fight for working families, and that’s what I’m going to do as well.”

She’s not facing the same tightrope act with her party’s nominee as her opponent. 

Toomey was quick to seize on McGinty’s praise of Clinton, even as he took heat for dodging questions about Trump. 

“She can’t even acknowledge the dishonesty that we see from Hillary Clinton on a daily basis,” he charged.

 

Police, racial tensions emerge as big issues

Toomey and McGinty clashed over support for the Black Lives Matter movement when the nominees were asked about institutional bias in law enforcement.

McGinty, whose father was a police officer, voiced her strong support for both law enforcement and Black Lives Matter. But when the moderator asked if police officers have institutional racism, she demurred and said there’s still more progress to be made on combating racism.

“We’ve made a lot of progress taking on racism and discrimination and we by no means have fully succeeded in eradicating racism and discrimination from our society,” she said.

While Toomey acknowledged there are some “bad apples,” the GOP senator said he believes most police officers aren’t racist and touted endorsements from major police organizations.

He received strong reaction to his criticism of the Black Lives Matter movement and argued that it unfairly insinuates that police officers don’t care about African-Americans.

“And the problem with the Black Lives Matter movement and Katie McGinty propagating this is just that phrase itself is meant to impugn the integrity of the police by implying that they don’t think black lives do matter,” Toomey said to mixed reactions from the crowd.

“And in fact, it’s my view all lives matter,” he continued to more boos. “And I think police get that. Police get that,” Toomey added, concluding with a line that got huge applause.

 

Toomey is making McGinty’s ethics an issue

Toomey homed in on his charge that McGinty is unethical. 

After McGinty was questioned about the top of her party’s ticket, Toomey floated that the Democratic Senate hopeful has a "problem with the truth." 

“Katie McGinty began her own campaign with a lie about her own background," he said. 

McGinty — whom Republicans have nicknamed "Shady Katie" — played defense earlier this year over her campaign’s claim that she was the first in her family to go to college. News reports revealed that her older brother, John, went to community college and a four-year school. 

Toomey also knocked McGinty for approving more than $2.7 million in grants as Pennsylvania's environmental protection secretary for a nonprofit environmental group where her husband worked as a consultant. 

Republicans believe the presidential race and Clinton's issues with voters questioning her trustworthiness give them an opening to make ethics a top issue in the Senate race. 

 

Toomey wants to be seen as bipartisan 

As Trump struggles in national polls, Toomey is increasingly pitching himself as an independent senator who will be a check on the White House. 

"If you want someone who's going to be independent and will criticize a president when he's wrong from whichever party, then I will be your candidate," he said on Monday night. 

Unlike McGinty, he added, "I am not a hyperpartisan, reflexive ideologue." 

Toomey said earlier this month that it was "increasingly likely" Clinton will win the presidency, reflecting a shift in GOP tactics as they try to hold onto control of the Senate next year. 

Toomey also touted his bipartisan gun control bill with Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinOvernight Health Care: Appeals court strikes down Medicaid work requirements | Pelosi's staff huddles with aides on surprise billing | Senate Dems pressure Trump to drop ObamaCare lawsuit Senate Democrats pressure Trump to drop ObamaCare lawsuit Manchin not ruling out endorsing Trump reelection MORE (D-W.Va.), pledging that he would introduce the legislation next year if he wins reelection. The bill has earned him praise from Democratic senators and outside groups. 

He added that he has worked with Sen. Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyDemocratic senators ask FDA to ban device used to shock disabled students Trump under pressure to renew last nuke treaty with Russia Celebrating and expanding upon five years of the ABLE  Act MORE (D-Pa.) to get federal judges for Pennsylvania through the Senate. 

"I will take a back seat to no one for the work that I've done to confirm judges to the federal bench," he said. "We've confirmed 16 federal judges. Those were mostly Democrats ... but I worked with Senator Casey to recruit, vet and confirm 16 judges to the federal bench."