WASHINGTON – If one day could crystallize 2016's Pennsylvania U.S. Senate race, it may have been Tuesday.
In Philadelphia, candidate Katie McGinty embraced another round of support from the Democratic establishment, racking up endorsements from Mayor Nutter, the city controller and eight city council members. Her chief rival, Joe Sestak, meanwhile, kept to his own path, planning policy events on housing laws and the fight against ISIS. Meanwhile the Democratic primary's wild card, Braddock Mayor John Fetterman, reinforced his maverick image by blasting out a simple statement made for headlines. In its entirety it read:
"Donald Trump is a jagoff."
And as those three tussled in their primary, Democratic leaders in Washington continued sniping at Republican Pat Toomey, hoping to damage the incumbent as their party tries to pick a nominee.
The jockeying and jabbing, in Pennsylvania and Washington alike, neatly encapsulated the early outlines of the race – hinting at the tactics, personalities and attack lines in a contest expected to heat up as the new year begins.
McGinty is the establishment pick and riding big name support to help her lay the foundation of her campaign. After her endorsement announcement at City Hall, she did a spree of interviews building off of the new backing.
Sestak has constructed his campaign around months of walks and policy talks, trying to reach grassroots Democrats. On Tuesday he published his argument praising the Affordable Care Act in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and planned a five-mile walk Wednesday between the homes of two people he helped, as a Congressman, as they faced housing troubles, followed by a discussion on housing laws. On Thursday the former admiral and White House national security advisor planned to speak to 90 people at World Affairs Council of Philadelphia about a strategy to defeat ISIS.
(And in a local touch, for those unfamiliar with Western Pennsylvania slang, his release on Trump cited the Wikipedia definition of 'jagoff': an American English derogatory slang term from Pittsburgh English meaning a person who is stupid or inept … a "general term of disparagement." His post had been shared more than 1,000 times on Facebook as of Tuesday afternoon.)
Each hopes to win a race that could help decide control of the Senate. National Democrats are heavily invested.
The party's top senator, Harry Reid, blasted Toomey Tuesday over a long-stalled judicial nominee from Philadelphia, who has yet to receive a Senate confirmation vote. Speaking on the Senate floor, Reid scoffed at Toomey's letter Monday urging Republican leaders to schedule a vote, noting that the nominee, Luis Felipe Restrepo, has been pending for more than a year.
"Where has Senator Toomey been since July when this nomination was first reported out of committee?" Reid asked. "Why has this nomination been pending before the Senate for more than a year? Could it be election time is here?"
Democrats for months have sought to portray Toomey as an obstructionist.
A Toomey spokeswoman said the senator has "worked tirelessly" to advance the nominee and has spoken with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell several times over recent months to try to help Restrepo.
But he also took flak from another angle as the Democratic Senate campaign arm pressed Toomey to disavow Donald Trump, who the Pennsylvania Republican party is hosting at a major fund-raiser Friday, hoping to pull in cash that is expected, in part, to help the senator in a key 2016 campaign.
Toomey beat the Democrats to the punch:
"Trump is wrong," he posted on Twitter hours before the Democratic statement. "We should not have a religious test for admission to U.S. We should have a security test, and it should be bullet proof."
Trump's lead in the polls has become a major concern for Republicans watching Senate races in moderate states such as Pennsylvania. Some in the GOP fear that the divisive billionaire's rhetoric could stain the party, and drag down candidates like Toomey, who need to appeal to swing voters.
Toomey, for his part, tried to turn attention to his work in the Senate -- where his campaign said he is working to "grow our economy, protect taxpayers, and make Pennsylvania a safer place to live and raise a family."
He posted a petition on Twitter urging followers to support his recent vote to effectively kill President Obama's health law, and planned to speak on the Senate floor about his proposal to ban schools from writing letters of recommendation for employees who are known or suspected pedophiles.
The measure is expected to clear the Senate this week and become law as part of an education overhaul.
It was also the topic of Toomey's first television ad in his re-election campaign.