- 27 октября 2016, 12:11
- POLITICO. Top Stories
PHILADELPHIA — GOP Sen. Pat Toomey’s campaign and outside allies are spending millions of dollars on ads casting the senator as a bipartisan hero for pushing for universal background checks on gun purchases. Democrats, meanwhile, are relentlessly praising Katie McGinty as a fighter for abortion rights and connecting Toomey to Donald Trump.
The catch? They are basically only doing it in Philadelphia.
There are really two races for Senate in Pennsylvania: One focused on more liberal social and cultural issues (and Trump) in the Philadelphia area, and another outside the nation’s fifth-largest city and its suburbs, where McGinty and Toomey mostly emphasize populist economic issues, including taxes and Wall Street. The Senate campaign residents of the Pittsburgh, Harrisburg and Scranton areas are hearing about this fall sounds very different to the one in Philadelphia.
Just ask the candidates.
“Katie McGinty does a lot of selective messaging,” Toomey says. “Katie McGinty attacks me on abortion in Philly, but she stays silent on it in other parts of the state.”
“Pat Toomey has been talking out of both sides of his mouth,” McGinty says. “He likes to talk a made-up game on gun safety in the Philadelphia area, but is on camera bragging about a perfect NRA record in the rest of the state.”
The bifurcation boils down to unambiguous regional differences — and simple math. When Toomey won his Senate seat in 2010, Democratic nominee Joe Sestak racked up a 290,000-vote edge over Toomey in Philadelphia County and padded that margin by more than 22,000 votes in the surrounding four battleground suburban “collar counties” (two of which Sestak carried and two of which Toomey carried). But Toomey overcame that by winning the conservative-leaning remainder of the state by more than 392,000 votes.
The differences in messaging can be as stark as the different voting patterns inside and outside Philadelphia. The Michael Bloomberg-backed Independence USA PAC has spent millions on television ads praising Toomey for backing gun control. Voters who live outside the Philadelphia area never saw any of them.
“When it came time to vote on background checks, Pat Toomey crossed party lines to do the right thing,” said Erica Smegielski, the daughter of the principal who died in the Sandy Hook massacre, in one of the ads that ran in Philadelphia. “That’s who he is. And I’m grateful.”
Meanwhile, the Toomey-backing Club for Growth in the state’s more rural markets of Harrisburg, Johnstown and Altoona essentially attacking McGinty for being from Philadelphia. The spot featured photos of Rep. Bob Brady, Mayor Jim Kenney and McGinty in front of the city’s skyline.
“The Philadelphia political machine’s candidate is Katie McGinty,” the narrator said. “It’s easy to see why.” The ad hit McGinty for supporting tax hikes and showed footage of Toomey walking alongside a farmer.
McGinty is also sending different messages in different parts of the state. On her campaign website, she instructs outside groups to tell voters in Philadelphia that “Toomey and Trump see eye to eye. Both want to defund Planned Parenthood, denying access to cancer screenings and pre-natal care for women. Both want to ban abortion and make the right to choose a crime.”
But even in a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll that showed Trump trailing Hillary Clinton by double digits in Pennsylvania, he still had a slight advantage in the rest of the state. And McGinty’s campaign is urging outside groups to adopt a different message outside Philadelphia, that “Toomey always puts Wall Street first.”
Earlier instructions to outside groups from August and September contain similar messages. In a notice dated Sept. 21, outside groups are asked to tell “voters all over Pennsylvania, and especially Pittsburgh, Johnstown and Scranton, need to know that Pat Toomey is on the side of corporations, not middle-class families.”
A Democratic strategist who has done polling in Pennsylvania acknowledged that while Clinton is running ahead of Trump by 15 to 20 points in the Philadelphia suburbs, McGinty’s lead is much smaller. But he said McGinty has largely managed to blunt Toomey’s gun-control message.
“Toomey has given those suburbanites enough to feel good about,” the strategist said. “But Democrats have fought to him a draw on gun control, and that’s what we needed to do.”
Not all messages in the race are quarantined in discrete parts of Pennsylvania. The Club for Growth is now airing an ad in Pittsburgh, Altoona and Scranton and Wilkes-Barre focusing both on McGinty’s ethics issues and her support for tax hikes, and it will begin airing in Philadelphia soon. The messaging on tax hikes helps shore up support for Toomey in Republican-leaning rural areas, while attacking her for conflicts of interest does better with suburban swing voters.
“Some messages work everywhere: McGinty being for middle-class tax hikes worked well in rural areas, but also did OK in Philly and Pittsburgh,” said Club President David McIntosh.
But McIntosh noted the economic and ethics messages only plays in Philadelphia because Toomey has convinced voters he’s not a standard-issue Republican.
“The mission for Toomey was to show Philadelphia and suburban voters that yes, he’s a conservative, but he is reasonable,” he said. “That lets voters move on from social issues to economic ones.”
Yet regional differences in Toomey and McGinty’s messages go beyond their television ads. At a recent appearance with moderate Maine Sen. Susan Collins in Villanova — about 15 minutes outside Philadelphia — Toomey and his colleague talked extensively about his independence and support for background checks.
Collins praised his “relentless work to stem the tidal wave of gun violence.” If Toomey’s background check bill had passed the Senate, Collins claimed, the “massacre” at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando “would not have occurred.”
During a national security speech later that week in Harrisburg, Toomey never mentioned his support for the gun control measure. Toomey said it was because gun control was more of a safety issue than a national security one.
“Most of what I was focusing on had more of national-security focus,” Toomey said.
But Toomey did make available a one-page, double-sided flyer complete with a camouflaged version of his campaign logo. The flyer boasts that Toomey “supports concealed-carry reciprocity,” while McGinty doesn’t, and also says he voted against a U.N. treaty on the arms trade and opposes President Barack Obama’s “executive actions” on guns. And Democrats have cut ads using footage of Toomey boasting about his record with the NRA.
There’s no direct contradiction in supporting background checks on one hand while opposing other gun-control measures. And Toomey notes many of his messages — about McGinty’s past support for various tax increases and her ethics issues — have run statewide.
The outside groups backing McGinty’s campaign, meanwhile, have so far hewed to the notes on her website about keeping certain issues to certain areas. Both Planned Parenthood and EMILY’s List have run ads attacking Toomey on abortion rights that didn’t air outside of Philadelphia.
In an interview, McGinty said she consistently advocated for abortion rights.
“We do talk about women’s private health choices everywhere we go,” McGinty said, adding: “It shows how far out of the mainstream Pat Toomey is.”
And has for the debate over Trump that has seemingly taken over every Senate campaign in the country? On the television airwaves, it’s happening exclusively in Philadelphia.
Senate Majority PAC and McGinty’s campaign have both aired ads there attacking Toomey and linking him to Trump’s stance on abortion.
“Pat Toomey and Donald Trump,” the narrator says in Senate Majority PAC’s ad. “They’re just wrong for the women of Pennsylvania.”
Toomey’s response ad addresses his party’s presidential nominee head-on.
“I have a lot of disagreements with Donald Trump. I've been very clear about that. But what's important for Pennsylvanians is having a senator who'll stand up to any president's bad ideas,” Toomey says in the ad.
But only a fraction of Pennsylvanians — the ones who live in the Philadelphia area — are seeing the ad.