WASHINGTON – Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey will launch two new television ads Tuesday, trumpeting his work in the Senate as Democrats try to keep attention on his refusal to consider President Obama's Supreme Court nominee.
The two 30-second ads, to air on cable and broadcast stations across the state, highlight Toomey's advocacy for police and his bill to toughen background checks on gun purchases, two key selling points in his re-election bid.
Both feature women praising Toomey, a Republican, just as in his first ad. In one of the new spots, an advocate for tougher gun laws hails "the courage that Sen. Pat Toomey has shown to stand up and do what's right." He won widespread praise in 2013 for co-sponsoring a bipartisan bill to expand background checks for gun purchases, exactly the kind of step that could help him appeal to Pennsylvania's critical moderate voters.
In the other ad, the wife of a police officer calls Toomey "the voice of hard working law enforcement families in Washington."
Toomey aides said the ads were part of a long-standing campaign plan. They arrive, though, as the rise of Donald Trump and the national fight over the Supreme Court have complicated an already difficult re-election bid for Toomey, and as a poll last month found an increasingly negative public perception of the incumbent.
Democrats on Monday began a national blitz putting a spotlight on Toomey and other vulnerable GOP senators' refusal to consider the Supreme Court nomination of Merrick Garland.
Republican leaders and operatives and have urged incumbents like Toomey to stress their individual work in their home states as a way to both distance themselves from Trump and turn focus away from the court fight.
Protesters, though, greeted Toomey at a morning event in State College -- with more rallies planned at his offices throughout the week. Toomey was unmoved, sticking to his argument that the president should not be allowed to dramatically move the court to the left so close to another election.
"It's a free country; people can come out and protest as they see fit," he told the Washington Post. But the protests, are "not likely to work."
Democrats see a winning issue.
A Monmouth University poll released Monday found that 69% of the public believes the Senate should hold hearings on Obama's nomination – including 85 percent of Democrats, 66 percent of independents and 56 percent of Republicans. Vast majorities, including 62 percent of Republicans surveyed, said GOP leaders were "playing politics."
Katie McGinty, one of four Democrats running to challenge Toomey, blasted him Monday over his refusal to consider Garland's nomination.
"How does Sen. Toomey think it's ok to collect his paycheck, cost us money and not lift a finger to fulfill even his most basic constitutional duties," McGinty told the Pennsylvania Press Club in Harrisburg.
She said senators should not get paid if they fail to hold hearings on judicial nominations within 90 days.
(The Toomey camp has said McGinty would be a "rubber stamp" for a more liberal high court).
McGinty also launched a new TV ad Monday, promising to fight for equal pay for women – "for my daughters and yours." She is running to become the first woman senator from Pennsylvania.
Another Democratic candidate, Braddock Mayor John Fetterman, posted a no-frills spot online featuring him and his Smith & Wesson revolver. "All of us should agree that we want to make sure that weapons like this stay out of the hands of people that could use them to hurt people," Fetterman says in the ad.
Joe Sestak, a former admiral and congressman who leads in polls of the Democratic primary, is running television ads highlighting his military background and promising that he has "got your six," using the military term for watching a compatriot's back.
He hit back at Toomey's ads, pointing to the senator's votes against reinstating a ban on assault weapons and against a Democratic bill that would bar anyone on the federal terror watch list from buying a gun. Toomey instead voted for more lax Republican version.
"The people of Pennsylvania deserve a senator who cares about their hopes and concerns all the time, not just when he's in an election year," Sestak said in a news release.
The Democratic primary is April 26.
Staff writer Angela Couloumbis contributed to this post.