By John L. Micek –
There are two sets of numbers, both related and intertwined, that should keep Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania awake at night.
The first one: 49-38 percent. That’s Democrat Hillary Clinton’s current advantage over Donald Trump among likely voters in Pennsylvania in a new Franklin-Marshall College poll.
The second one: 39-38 percent. That’s the statistically meaningless lead that Democrat Katie McGinty has (also among likely voters) over Toomey in their hard-fought race for the United States Senate.
It’s a truism by now that Republicans see their road to the White House running through Pennsylvania, a state that the GOP has not carried since the election of President George H.W. Bush in 1988.
Trump’s tanking poll numbers in such key electoral battlegrounds as Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, which also both boast competitive U.S. Senate races, have national Republicans sweating their Senate majority.
In the Granite State, for instance, a new WBUR poll shows Clinton beating Trump by 17 points in a head-to-head contest and by 15 points in a four-way race that includes the Green and Libertarian Party candidates.
That same poll shows GOP incumbent Sen. Kelly Ayotte down 10 points, 50-40 percent, to Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan.
So a decisive Clinton win would, almost by definition, result in Democrats flipping the five seats they need to regain control of the 100-member chamber.
And with the future composition of the U.S. Supreme Court at stake, among other key issues, that’s a fate that Republicans are hoping to avoid.
But it may now be pinwheeling beyond their control.
Even by his own bizarre standards, Trump has had a seriously bad two weeks since claiming the Republican nomination in Cleveland.
Through Thursday, Trump continued his destructively pointless battle with the Muslim parents of a slain Iraq War soldier; he declined to endorse U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan and Sen. John McCain in their own tough primaries, and he had to revoke his claim to have seen a “top secret” video of a cash payoff to Iran that turned out to be footage of American hostages landing in Geneva.
So with all that, you might think Toomey would join the ranks of fellow Republicans who have explicitly rejected Trump’s candidacy and who have publicly said they won’t vote for him in November.
But while Toomey has publicly distanced himself from Trump, he’s still inexplicably saying that he “still hope[s] to get to the point where I’m fully supporting him.”
“I will never support Hillary Clinton under any circumstances, ever. But before I make an endorsement [of Trump], I do want to spend a little more time watching and listening,” Toomey told CBS-Philly last month.
It’s tough to imagine what Trump could do or say now to get Toomey onside. And time is running out.
That’s because Clinton is up 40 points in the Philadelphia suburbs in that same Franklin-Marshall poll, where, as one political website noted, one-third of the state’s 8.2 million voters live.
So Clinton doesn’t have to win all of Pennsylvania. She just needs big wins in Philly, its ‘burbs, Pittsburgh and maybe five other counties to put herself (and McGinty) over the top.
“In 1984, one out of every two voters cast a vote for the president of one party and a member of Congress from the other. In 2012, that number dropped to 20 percent, one in five. So we’re talking about the proverbial coat-tail effect,” Franklin-Marshall pollster Terry Madonna told The Hill this week.
Worryingly for Toomey, barely a quarter of voters (24 percent) believed he’d done a good enough job to merit re-election.
Ideally, you want a senator who’s thoughtful and cautious. Those are admirable traits in the hothouse of the Capitol. But caution for a candidate can be crippling.
And as long as he continues to dance the Trump Two-Step, Toomey is torpedoing his own chances. And along with them, any GOP hope of hanging onto the Senate.
John L. Micek is the Opinion Editor and Political Columnist for PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa. Copyright © 2016 John L. Micek, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.
© 2016, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.