WASHINGTON - If one day could crystallize the budding U.S. Senate race in Pennsylvania, it may have come Tuesday.
In Philadelphia, candidate Katie McGinty embraced more support from the Democratic establishment, racking up endorsements from Mayor Nutter, the city controller, and eight City Council members.
Her chief rival, Joe Sestak, planned policy events on housing laws and the fight against ISIS, while a third Democrat, Braddock Mayor John Fetterman, reinforced his maverick image with a one-sentence headline-grabbing campaign announcement: "Donald Trump is a jagoff."
Meanwhile, their party leaders in Washington sniped at the Republican incumbent all three hope to unseat, Pat Toomey.
The jockeying and jabbing neatly encapsulated the early outlines of a critical race, hinting at the tactics, personalities, and attack lines coming as the election year nears.
McGinty is the establishment pick and is using big-name support to lay the campaign foundation.
Sestak, the retired admiral running without support of party leaders, has constructed a campaign around months of walks and policy talks, trying to reach grassroots Democrats. On Tuesday, he published a piece praising the Affordable Care Act in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and planned two events Wednesday to talk housing policy - on either end of a five-mile walk between the homes of two people he helped with housing troubles when he was in Congress.
Fetterman has tried to capitalize on his outsider ethos to draw energy to his campaign emanating from a tiny borough outside Pittsburgh. (His attack on the GOP presidential front-runner - which included a citation defining jagoff as a derogatory Western Pennsylvania term - was shared more than 1,000 times on Facebook.)
Each hopes for a chance to run against Toomey in a race that could decide control of the Senate.
Speaking on the Senate floor Tuesday, Democratic leader Harry Reid blasted the Republican over a long-stalled judicial nominee from Philadelphia, and scoffed at a letter Toomey wrote Monday urging a confirmation vote. "Could it be election time is here?" Reid asked, noting the nomination has languished for more than a year.
A Toomey spokeswoman said he had spoken with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell several times over recent months to try to advance the nomination of U.S. District Judge Luis Felipe Restrepo to the appellate bench.
Democrats also challenged Toomey to disavow Trump's controversial call to bar Muslims from entering the country, but the senator beat them to it:
"Trump is wrong," the Republican wrote on Twitter hours before the Democratic Senate campaign arm tried to prod him. "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 polls has become a major worry for Republicans watching Senate races in moderate states such as Pennsylvania. Some fear his rhetoric could stain the party and drag down candidates such as Toomey.
The incumbent, for his part, tried to turn attention to his work in the Senate, where his campaign said he is working to boost the economy and make Pennsylvania safer.
He posted a petition on Twitter urging followers to support his recent vote to undercut President Obama's health law, and spoke on the Senate floor about his plan to bar schools from writing recommendation letters for employees who are known or suspected pedophiles.
The measure, a prominent piece of his early reelection bid, is expected to clear the Senate this week and become law.