Folsom, Penn. — Eight minutes into his speech at a campaign event at VFW Post 928, Senator Pat Toomey, who faces an intensely competitive reelection battle here, ceded the microphone.
“Let me now turn the podium over to the man we came here to hear from,” Toomey said.
Toomey may be the candidate on the ballot statewide, but it was Arizona senator John McCain who was the main ticket for the crowd of veterans and local officials assembled here on a Friday morning. He was in town to make a direct appeal to veterans to support his Senate colleague.
“As you know, I’m running for reelection, but I’m here because I believe that Pat Toomey is critical for me to be able to do my job for the people of Arizona,” McCain told the small crowd.
Indeed, the Arizona senator has a reelection race of his own to deal with this cycle, and his presence here is indicative of how differently Republicans view the Senate landscape now than they did several months ago. When Donald Trump secured the Republican presidential nomination in April, it seemed as though McCain might be in trouble. Arizona typically votes Republican in presidential years, but between Trump’s sometimes-offensive rhetoric and his hard-line immigration policies, it looked like down-ballot Republicans, especially those such as McCain in states with large Hispanic populations, could lose.
Instead, 46 days before election day, McCain was here in Folsom, his reelection bid evidently less of a concern than backing Toomey, who holds one of the handful of highly competitive seats that will determine which party controls the Senate. In fact, Toomey says, McCain asked to campaign for him.
“I think Senator McCain and I are both confident — I think I can speak for Senator McCain in saying I think we’re both confident that Republicans will continue to control the Senate,” Toomey told reporters as he left the event.
Trump held a campaign event just 20 miles away from here Thursday, but 24-hours later there was not a single mention of the GOP presidential nominee in the course of the event. It was perhaps a logical choice in this swing area, which is rife with the type of voters who might be convinced to split their tickets for Toomey and Hillary Clinton.
Asked about his feelings on Trump, Arthur Burn, who sports overalls and a red baseball cap, waves his hand in a “so-so” motion. “He’s all right,” Burn says. “I’m voting for him. My hope is that he’ll appoint qualified people to offices that’ll help, but basically there’s just no way I could vote for Hillary.
In fact, the only mention of presidential politics during the event came from McCain, when he jokingly thanked Toomey for declining to mention his failed 2008 bid for the presidency. “After I lost I slept like a baby,” McCain cracked. “Sleep two hours, wake up, and cry.”