McGinty, Toomey meet for TV debate

In football action tonight, the New York Jets face off against the Arizona Cardinals. But given their losing records, if you really want to see some hits tonight, you might want to tune into the Pennsylvania Senate debate between Senator Pat Toomey and his Democratic challenger, Katie McGinty.

The candidates came out swinging with the very first question in the debate, which taped this afternoon and will air on KDKA at 7 p.m. Both candidates were asked about their feelings toward their parties presidential nominees. Ms. McGinty said she was supporting Hillary Clinton though “there will be issues that I disagree with [her] about,” including plans to close a prison camp for suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. “I don’t think we can afford to do that,” Ms. McGinty said.

But she quickly saw to turn the attack on Mr. Toomey, who has neither endorsed nor rejected the candidacy of GOP nominee Donald Trump. She called Mr. Toomey’s failure to state a position “unacceptable.” While Mr. Toomey has said he hopes to be persuaded by Mr. Trump, Ms. McGinty said, “Waiting to be persuaded is political-speak for waiting for the next poll.”

Mr. Toomey was ready for the broadside. “Because Katie is so extremely partisan,” he said, “she can’t grasp the idea that somebody might have trouble with a candidate’s in her own party.” And he said that while he had criticized Mr. Trump, who he called “a badly flawed candidate,” Ms. McGinty had been much more forgiving of Ms. Clinton’s alleged sins.

“Maybe that’s because Katie started campaign with a big fat lie herself,” said Mr. Toomey, a reference to statements Ms. McGinty has made falsely claiming to be the first in her family to attend college. (Ms. McGinty had a brother that attended first: The McGinty campaign has said she was the first to attend a four-year school directly out of high school.  He returned to the topic repeatedly over the course of the debate, discrediting assertions by saying, “This is like [saying] she was the first in her family to go to college all over again.”

Mr. Toomey also criticized Ms. McGinty for her tenure as Secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection during the administration of Ed Rendell. After leaving that post, Ms. McGinty took paid positions with companies she regulated, and Mr. Toomey noted that some companies that received subsidies for creating renewable energy jobs subsequently failed.

“Every Pennsylvania worker lost their job, Pennsylvania taxpayers lost their money, but Katie did quite well,” he said.

Ms. MCGinty said that she was “proud of the work I have done” in green energy, which she said helped “to create jobs while protecting the environment.” She said that fact-checkers had called Mr. Toomey’s attacks “False, misleading, untrue.” But fact-checkers who have looked into similar claims have found them credible — while noting that Ms. McGinty’s private-sector work was not illegal.

Ms. McGinty, who said Mr. Toomey had been “well-rewarded” by fossil-fuel companies for opposing environmental initiatives, suggested that Mr. Toomey had conflict-of-interest problems of his own, noting that Mr. Toomey had started a community bank and held a stake in it “while sitting on the Senate Banking Committee.” (That history is recounted in this Politico story, which notes that there is a precedent for such behavior in Congress.)

The candidates also sought to characterize each other as too partisan for Pennsylvania, a purple state. Ms. McGinty said Mr. Toomey was “part of a hyper-partisan cabal,” because he had shelved a vote on the Supreme Court Justice Merrick Garland, who President Barack Obama named as a replacement for the late Antonin Scalia.

Mr. Toomey said he’d worked with Pennsylvania Democrat Bob Casey to name other federal court appointments, but said that given the ideological split on the court, “we ought to let the American people have the maximum say in this,” by allowing them to choose a president to name the next Justice.

“The people did speak,” Ms. McGinty shot back. “They elected Barack Obama as their president.”

Mr. Toomey, meanwhile, charged that Harrisburg Republicans refused to work with Ms. McGinty when she served as chief of staff for Gov. Tom Wolf. “That’s the kind of atmosphere that we can’t afford in Washington,” he said.

The two differed on a number of other issues, including policing and whether Ms. McGinty had been endorsed by any public-safety unions. Ms. McGinty said she had, but declined to name them during the debate. The campaigns were still disputing the matter after the debate’s conclusion.

On guns, Mr. Toomey pointed to unsuccessful legislation he co-sponsored to expand background checks for firearm purchases. “I knew that was going to go over like a lead balloon with my party and it did,” he said. “But I worked with [Mr. Manchin] anyway because I thought it was the right thing to do.”

Ms. McGinty questioned the sincerity of those efforts: “Senator Toomey did a photo-op about one piece of legislation,” she said, and when it failed, “Senator Toomey said, ‘The Senate has spoken, let’s move on.”

By the debate’s end, about the only thing the candidates agreed on was to abide by the result Nov. 8. While Mr. Trump has suggested the election results are likely to be rigged, Mr. Toomey stressed that “Our elections may not always be completely perfect, but they are legitimate.”

“We all need to respect the outcome, because that’s going to be necessary to pull us together on Nov. 9,” he added.

Polling in the race has swung wildly from month to month, and from poll to poll. A Real Clear Politics average of recent polling shows the race essentially deadlocked.

The two will next debate next Monday in Philadelphia.

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