Trump looms large for Pennsylvania Republican tip-toeing around him

Democrat Kate McGinty has tried to tie incumbent Senator Pat Toomey to his party’s nominee, whom the Republican has avoided taking any position toward

When she entered the race for Pennsylvania’s Senate seat last August, Katie McGinty faced an uphill battle.

Once a staffer for vice-president Al Gore and Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, never elected to office, she had to defeat former representative Joe Sestak in a bruising Democratic primary. The next challenge was to overcome a 16-point lead held by the incumbent senator, Republican Pat Toomey.

Now, with less than a month to go before the election, the latest poll from Bloomberg shows McGinty edging Toomey, if within the margin of error. And as the days to the vote count down, the Republican must keep dancing around his feelings for his party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump.

Toomey has tried to avoid alienating both Trump’s hardcore supporters and the 80% of voters who have said they are bothered by Trump’s 2005 assertion that he gropes women without consent, and subsequent claims from women that he did exactly that to them.

In interviews with Philadelphia’s local papers, Toomey tried to balance without a position on Trump, saying: “I hoped that Donald Trump would persuade me. I remain unpersuaded.” Even as many noncommittal Republicans fled from Trump in the wake of the video’s publication, Toomey refused to renounce the nominee entirely, earning at least one comedian’s derision.

On Friday, McGinty was in Philadelphia at the Christian Street YMCA – the first black YMCA to have its own building and one of the few places in the city where African Americans were allowed to swim and use exercise facilities before the second world war. She was joined by New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand, before a phalanx of television cameras and a round table of mostly African American women support an increased minimum wage and access to high-quality, low-cost childcare.


McGinty and Gillibrand listened intently as the women spoke, with the former nodding her head and taking notes – particularly about the grandmothers in the group. They said that they have found themselves filling in gaps in childcare, setting aside their own lives to make up for day care facilities with waiting lists and organizations that charge for infant care, one woman said, “as much as college tuition”.

McGinty eventually encouraged one women from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) to speak about the importance of the Fight for 15, a nationwide push for a minimum wage of $15 per hour. “We know that America hasn’t gotten a raise in 16 years, and it’s a problem,” the attendee said. “When everything around you goes up, but your salary, your wages don’t, you’re always working from behind. You never catch up.”

“We know it’s the right thing to do” to raise the minimum wage, McGinty said. “It’s time to get moving on this.”

After the panel, McGinty spoke to reporters about Toomey’s argument that only he can provide a check on the power of a Democratic administration and build bipartisan support for legislation. Toomey has cited his co-sponsorship of a 2013 gun control bill, which failed, as an example of his bipartisan nature, even though he voted against expanded background checks earlier this year, as McGinty noted.

She argued further that that she would build bipartisan consensus on a federal minimum wage increase.

“I do think that we can build a bipartisan consensus, and the reason is that it’s not only the right thing to do, but it’s the smart thing to do from a business and an economic point of view, “ she explained. “You don’t have to just think about that theoretically: that’s exactly what we’ve seen in those states and localities that have already gotten out there and increased the minimum wage.”

“There are ways that you can talk everybody’s language, meet their values and priorities and get initiatives like this done.”

But asked about Donald Trump’s outreach to liberals on child care on family leave, she encouraged Pennsylvanians not to believe the hype: “It won’t happen at all”.

“There is nothing in Donald Trump’s personal demeanor, record or his own business practices that would indicate that he has even the basic minimum of respect for women, children and families.”

McGinty and other Democrats see Trump’s cratering numbers as a vulnerability for Toomey and other Senate Republicans in swing states like Pennsylvania, and she tried tie her opponent to his party’s presidential nominee.

“It is long past due for any profile in courage from Pat Toomey,” she said, noting that he still hasn’t said whether or not he plans to vote for Trump. “We have seen a Republican nominee who degrades our prisoners of war, who insults families that made the biggest sacrifice for this country, who was spoken despicably about women and now we have strong evidence that he’s turned those words into action and aggressive action that amounts to sexual assault.

“It’s nothing short of despicable for Pat Toomey not to stand up right now, today, to Donald Trump and make clear that he is not fit to be president of the United States.”

The senator’s position on Trump, she said, was a “political calculation” and evidence “he’s putting his own interest in front of the interests of his constituents”.

Before everyone parted ways,Gillibrand took MicGinty aside, almost out of hearing range of the media, and offered advice for the last few weeks of the campaign. “Stay tough,” she told McGinty. “Talk about what your values will be.”


Megan Carpentier in Philadelphia

The GuardianTramp

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