On Sunday, addressing a crowd of supporters in King of Prussia, Pa., Republican senator Pat Toomey announced that he will seek a second term.
In a speech decrying the “wasteful spending,” “crony capitalism,” and “disastrous foreign policy” of the Obama administration, Toomey outlined his vision for a nation governed by fiscal discipline and bipartisan agreement. He touted the successes of his first term — such as the passage of the JOBS Act he co-sponsored with Democratic senator Tom Carper, which lifts shareholder limits on private businesses looking to expand — to highlight his commitment to legislative action over empty rhetoric.
“Think about what our country has been through in the last 6 or 7 years. President Obama . . . in the early days had big democratic majorities. They were able to do everything they wanted to do, and they did,” Toomey said. “Folks, it doesn’t have to be this way. We should never accept as the new normal a second-rate economy.”
Toomey’s race represents one of the marquee congressional battles for Republicans as they attempt to hold on to the Senate in 2016. Electoral behavior in a blue-leaning battleground state like Pennsylvania — where Democrats are likely to enjoy a turnout advantage in a presidential-election year — will prove one of the biggest obstacles to Toomey’s keeping his seat.
Nevertheless, his team remains confident.
“Regardless of the year, this is Pennsylvania, and the race will be a very competitive race,” says Toomey’s press secretary, Steve Kelly. “But Senator Toomey is prepared for it. He will run strong, and we’re confident that he will win.”
In his speech, Toomey underscored Pennsylvania’s need for leaders who can be principled and pragmatic in equal measure. He noted that it’s hard to “get things done” in Washington because of an unwillingness to reach across the aisle. “It’s a challenging environment for all of us,” he said. “I’ve learned that it’s possible to get things done if you’re willing to stick to your principles, but look for common ground at the same time.”
#share#Toomey’s bipartisan efforts — which, in addition to the JOBS Act, include working with his Democratic colleague in the Pennsylvania delegation, Senator Bob Casey, to confirm 15 judges to the Pennsylvania federal bench (more than in any other state except California and New York) — help tell that story. They are also a way for him to draw a telling contrast with his likely opponent, Joe Sestak, a former Democratic representative who narrowly lost to Toomey in the 2010 Senate race. Sestak, who currently faces Katie McGinty and Braddock mayor John Fetterman in the Democratic primary, is often criticized as inhabiting the fringes of the Left, having said that Obama’s $787 billion stimulus package and his Affordable Care Act didn’t go “far enough.”
Toomey’s race represents one of the marquee congressional battles for Republicans as they attempt to hold on to the Senate in 2016.
“Sestak has a record that’s very assailable,” says a top GOP strategist. “It sets up a good contrast with Toomey, who is clearly a conservative but not on the fringes of his party. His strategy will be to remind Pennsylvanians that he’s not a flamethrower. . . . He’s an intelligent, measured, and thoughtful leader.”
Toomey, who spent $13 million in his 2010 campaign, is on pace to spend “even more” on the 2016 election, according to the strategist. “He’s already got over $8 million in the bank. He knows that this race will be tough, and now that he’s running on a record, we’ll probably see more donors flocking to him,” he says.
Toomey is no stranger to tough races. He lost the Republican Senate primary to longtime incumbent Arlen Specter in 2004, only to challenge him once more in 2010. As a former president of the Club for Growth — a limited government and anti-tax organization — who was credited by Dick Armey with helping to launch the Tea Party movement, Toomey succeeded in persuading voters that Specter lacked the conservative record to be the Republican nominee. When polls showed Toomey leading Specter in the primary, Specter defected to the Democratic party, where he was defeated by Sestak. Toomey would go on the defeat Sestak in the general election by just two percentage points.
Strategists for the campaign say that Toomey will make job creation and limited spending the cornerstones of his campaign, as he did in 2010.
“He’s running on the same principles he did last time,” says one general consultant. “He’s concerned first and foremost on how to continue getting wins for the hardworking families of Pennsylvania.”
A Quinnipiac University poll released in June shows Toomey defeating Sestak in a projected matchup, 47 percent to 36 percent.
— Elaina Plott is a William F. Buckley Fellow in Political Journalism at the National Review Institute.