PITTSBURGH — Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) and Democratic challenger Katie McGinty taped the first debate of their heated U.S. Senate contest Monday afternoon at KDKA-TV studios. The event will air at 7 p.m. on CBS in Philadelphia and will be available on the KDKA web site after it airs.
Here are some key points from the taping Monday afternoon:
Attacks off the top: If you want to see more of the attacks that are playing out on so many TV ads already, by all means watch the first 10 minutes of the debate. The beginning consisted of the candidates basically rehashing in their own words the attacks already flooding your airwaves — each seeming to try to knock the other off stride. McGinty accused Toomey of being a Wall Street insider. Toomey said McGinty had enriched herself by handing out taxpayer-funded grants to companies that later gave her high-paying board positions.
None of them seemed to land the kind of blow that might change the course of a neck-and-neck race, though you can expect to hear more about one particular dust-up over police endorsements (more on that below).
What was most fascinating was watching the candidates try to parry these attacks live. Toomey cast his time as a derivatives trader as time working "in New York finance" in his 20s, when he said he worked very hard and started at the bottom.
McGinty didn't directly rebut Toomey's attacks, but said independent fact-checkers have criticized them as false or misleading.
The good news: after the initial jousting, the debate settled into issues and clear distinctions. More on that below as well. Toomey admitted how rough this election has been: "it's getting hard to watch TV," he said.
Toomey: Election won't be rigged: One of the most striking moments came when Toomey countered Donald Trump's claims that the election may be rigged, an argument the GOP presidential nominee has made again and again in Pennsylvania.
"Our elections may not always be completely perfect, but they are legitimate, they have integrity and everyone needs to respect the outcome," Toomey said. He urged voters to respect the results on Nov. 8, "because that's going to be necessary to pull us all together on Nov. 9."
Given the force behind Trump's claims — and the possibility that some voters refuse to accept this election's results or the legitimacy of the next president — it will be critical to watch how the losing party's leaders react after Election Day, and whether they deepen the divisiveness, or try to move forward.
A strange endorsement flap: For the most part, McGinty was poised and seemed comfortable while on stage with a more experienced debater.
But an awkward moment — and awkward explanation — arrived when Toomey boasted about the many law enforcement groups that have endorsed him. McGinty countered by pointing out that her father was a longtime Philly cop and saying "I have been endorsed as well." Challenged on stage to say by whom, McGinty couldn't.
Then things got strange.
Her campaign tweeted that she was endorsed by the International Union of Police Associations (IUPA). But that group has backed Toomey. Then her campaign sent out a release saying the IUPA of Pennsylvania had endorsed her, and included a September email from the group's lead representative confirming it.
But the IUPA national legislative director, Dennis Slocumb, said they have no state chapter in Pennsylvania. (The group represents some 100,000 police officers, mostly rank-and-file, nationwide and in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico).
What they do have is a local chapter in Pittsburgh representing 34 Port Authority Transit Police, Slocumb said. That local's representative to the state AFL-CIO, Joe DelSole, confirmed by phone that they had, indeed, endorsed McGinty. He said they like Toomey but liked McGinty better. And he seemed stunned by how many reporters were blowing up his phone.
Toomey's campaign scoffed at the small group's backing, which does not appear to have been previously publicized -- especially compared to organizations like the statewide Fraternal Order of Police lodge, representing 40,000 people, backing Toomey. Still, it turns out a small law enforcement group has endorsed McGinty.
But if there's anything from this debate that could add new fodder to the battle, it may be this moment. Throughout the debate Toomey accused McGinty of dishonesty, saying her run "began with a big fat lie" and citing her claim to being the first in her family to go to a four-year college, when it turns out a brother had gone first.
Expect his campaign to use this dispute to try to continue pushing the idea that McGinty can't be trusted.
Trump continued to loom large: The Republican nominee's name came up within the first minute and 10 seconds of the debate. Toomey — who has refused to say whether he'll endorse Trump -- did add some new insight into his thinking, arguing that Trump would "probably sign legislation that would be constructive" like repealing Obamacare and imposing new sanctions on Iran.
McGinty was happy to let the issue fester, citing Toomey's statements that he is "unpersuaded" so far.
"Waiting to be persuaded is political speak for waiting for the next poll," she said. Later she yielded her time for a rebuttal so Toomey, she said, could have more time to explain his views.
Contrast on the issues: The second part of the debate delved into climate change, policing, money in politics and the Affordable Care Act, each presenting sharp contrasts.
McGinty said climate change can be fought while still creating jobs by focusing on manufacturing for green energy. Toomey, unlike many Republicans, said global warming is real and human activity probably plays a part, but he disputed how much of a factor human activity is and said Democrats' solutions will destroy jobs and have little impact.
McGinty called for more community policing to increase trust between police and residents, while Toomey — acknowledging that some recent police shootings have raised serious questions — objected "to this completely dishonest notion that the police are somehow these rogue racists." McGinty backed limits on campaign spending, but Toomey likened that to re-writing and limiting the First Amendment. McGinty supported the Affordable Care Act, but argued more should be done to control drug prices. Toomey said the entire system is failing and called for a market-based solution.
McGinty name checks much of the family: McGinty often talks about coming from a big Irish family - the ninth of 10 kids, as she'll tell anyone listening. Many of them got shout outs during the debate as she used her family's story to try to make herself more relatable.
When the subject turned to policing, she talked about her dad walking the beat. On coal, she mentioned brothers who were coal miners. On gun laws, she said her brothers hunt. For a candidate who has never held elected office and is therefore introducing herself to many voters, this seemed to be a way to make herself more relatable.
Toomey doesn't do much on the personal side. A former banker who often focuses on numbers and statistics, he litigates his arguments like a lawyer, point by point, rebutting the other side and arguing why his solution is better.
Aside from the policies, the styles presented a real contrast.