Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) still won't say whom he'll support for president.
Locked in one of the country's toughest Senate races, Toomey on Tuesday refused to rule out voting for Donald Trump for president despite building political pressure and defections by high-profile Republicans after release of a video in which Trump boasted about aggressively groping and kissing women without their consent.
In an hour-long interview with journalists from the Inquirer and the Daily News, Toomey said he had made clear for months that he had serious reservations about the GOP nominee, and still does.
But he left open the possibility that he might yet vote for Trump and might not announce a decision before Election Day, prolonging a major question hanging over his nationally watched campaign.
"I hoped that Donald Trump would persuade me. I remain unpersuaded," Toomey said, saying he had long supported Republicans for president. "For a lot of Pennsylvanians, and very much this one, this is a terrible situation we're in. I think we have two very badly flawed candidates."
He was far more firm when it came to Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee. At a morning campaign stop in Villanova, he called her "arguably one of the most flawed nominees in the history of the republic," and said he "could never" vote for her.
Toomey's dilemma, with just four weeks to go until Election Day, reflects the way Trump has engulfed the political landscape and left Republicans flailing in his wake as his poll numbers plunge.
In the 2005 video, released Friday, Trump was overheard telling an Access Hollywood host he would sometimes "just start kissing" women. "I don't even wait . . . and when you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything." In graphic terms, he also described groping women.
The recording has been a breaking point for many Republicans - including several fellow senators and members of Congress from the Philadelphia area. Toomey has condemned Trump's words - he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Tuesday that if Trump did what he said he did, "that is unequivocally assault" - but he would not say if he found the video disqualifying for a presidential nominee.
That indecision has given his Democratic challenger, Katie McGinty, an opening to attack him almost daily. On Tuesday, she said Toomey's refusal to disavow Trump destroys the senator's credibility.
"Either Sen. Toomey does feel that the kind of disgusting comments and behavior we've seen from Donald Trump are absolutely all right," McGinty said at a Philadelphia news conference, "or Sen. Toomey is not telling us the truth, and he knows, as we know, that Donald Trump is 100 percent totally unfit to be president of the United States."
While Trump's comments have threatened to make him toxic with the kind of moderate voters critical to Toomey's reelection bid, abandoning Trump risks offending his fervent supporters on the right.
Asked by the editorial boards if he would tell voters his decision before Election Day, Nov. 8, Toomey said, "I haven't decided."
Did he find the video disqualifying?
"I think I've answered the question," he said.
The risk of deserting the nominee was starkly illustrated in a Trump Twitter rant Tuesday morning, in which he said he could finally take off the "shackles."
"Disloyal R's are far more difficult than Crooked Hillary. They come at you from all sides. They don't know how to win - I will teach them!" Trump tweeted.
He later took aim at one senator who abandoned him, assailing "the very foul mouthed Sen. John McCain."
House Speaker Paul Ryan has already faced some voter anger: He was booed in his hometown after distancing himself from Trump.
"Many of us, myself included, are very surprised that our party would nominate Donald Trump," Toomey said. "I was very surprised that he carried 67 counties in Pennsylvania and he got 57 percent of the vote [in the GOP primary]. These are the same people that voted to nominate me, and he and I are very, very different."
Toomey has responded to Trump's candidacy by touting his willingness to stand up to his own party. On Tuesday morning, he enlisted a colleague with a reputation for crossing party lines, Sen. Susan Collins (R., Maine), for a "Women for Toomey" campaign event in Villanova. Collins, who in August announced she could not back the GOP nominee, praised Toomey for his independence.
He has rebuked Trump for several comments during the campaign and has sharply criticized his remarks on the video. On Tuesday he blasted McGinty as a "rubber stamp" who would back Clinton and add to the partisanship in Washington.
"Katie McGinty can't even bring herself to find a word of criticism for all the lies" told by Clinton, Toomey said. "I have repeatedly criticized Donald Trump, and to this day I have not endorsed him."
McGinty has heartily backed Clinton and stuck to the Democratic platform. She challenged Toomey to prove his independence by breaking with Trump.
"How about standing up to Donald Trump right here in Pennsylvania today?" McGinty said Tuesday outside Toomey's Center City office.