As the Sestak-Romanoff story continues to develop, keep a close eye on Pat Toomey, the GOP nominee for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania. He’s running against Rep. Joe Sestak (D., Pa.), the man who supposedly said “No, thanks” to an unpaid, White House job offer. Running in a purple state that often elects moderate Republicans and Democrats, Toomey is making sure to approach the Sestak scandal-of-sorts with caution. He wants to highlight it without looking obsessed — mostly so suburban Philly soccer moms don’t recoil and see him as some rabid winger. This afternoon, I spoke with GOP officials and Toomey aides about his challenge, namely about how to pin Sestak for his evasion without losing focus on the policy-driven thrust of his campaign.
The answer from both national GOP folks and Team Toomey is the same: Let the National Republican Senatorial Committee carry water on Sestak-Romanoff and let Pat focus on Pennsylvania. “Toomey has come out and said that Sestak needs to clear the air,” says Amber Marchand of the NRSC in an interview with National Review Online. “While there are a lot of issues here that are concerning, and his campaign has acknowledged that, he’s continuing to focus on jobs and the economy. His team is following their strategy.” For the NRSC’s part, Marchand says Sestak’s White House troubles will continue to be raised. “We’ll continue to press this,” she says. “There are many legitimate questions that need answers. Why are these candidates running beholden to the Democratic establishment? Were they covering up? We want to look at this lack of transparency.”
Toomey aides say the NRSC’s work is fine by them. Still, they say they can’t get too distracted by it, and want to leave it to lawmakers and investigators to lead the charge. “Pat hasn’t been talking about this on the trail,” one tells me. “We don’t think it’ll affect our campaign. We won’t push on it. In many ways it’s a distraction, since it’s not really getting legs in Pennsylvania. The newspapers are chatting about it, but that’s about it.” Other GOP officials echo that inside-campaign consensus: For Toomey, this is too hot to touch, for now.
“I don’t think this hurts Sestak in either the short or long run, but certainly can be a further drag on Obama’s poll numbers,” says James Lee, president of Susquehanna Polling, to NRO. “For Toomey, he only needs to do what he has already been doing: Keep the fire lit on slow burn, sit back and enjoy, and wait this out. If asked to comment on it, he needs to keep asking the right questions, but otherwise shouldn’t try to push it.”
Terry Madonna, a political analyst at Franklin & Marshall College, agrees. “I think Toomey’s tactic of asking for full disclosure is appropriate,” he says. “There is no reason for him to do the heavy lifting when half of the D.C. press corps and the cable news programs are doing it for him. It’s a national news story, yes, and being widely covered in the state, but I still don’t think it’s a huge hit for Sestak — not nearly as bad as it is for the White House.”