Toomey Will Need Conservatives In 2016

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Reportedly Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) has a narrow lead over his 2010 opponent, Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA), but an in-depth look at the poll from Democrat-leaning Public Policy Polling suggests Toomey may have a serious fight on his hands if he hopes to win re-election, especially given his move to the middle that has angered the conservative GOP base in Pennsylvania.

National Journal reported on Toomey’s trouble with his base back in April of 2013.

The junior senator from Pennsylvania’s doomed effort to broker a gun-control compromise on background checks provoked anger among fellow Republicans, who called him an enemy of the Second Amendment and a traitor to the conservative cause. The heat was so searing, in fact, that an attempt at humor—Toomey posted on Facebook a Saturday Night Live skit poking fun at himself—did little more than draw incensed comments from conservatives angry he’d make light of a serious issue.

The very conservatives the senator counted among his most ardent supporters during a 2004 primary campaign against then-Sen. Arlen Specter had suddenly made Toomey a target. And for the first time since he assiduously began building a reputation as a moderate lawmaker—an effort that includes moderation on gay rights and other cultural topics—the senator faces uncertainty within his base.

The question Toomey must now answer is whether he will continue his periodic jaunts toward the political middle, or if the backlash will keep him faithful to conservatives even as he approaches his 2016 reelection in blue Pennsylvania.

The above combined with Toomey’s now less than solid poll numbers leave him extremely vulnerable, so much so in fact it’s possible to imagine a scenario where a candidate as implausible as MSNBC’s Chris Matthews could run and give Toomey a hard time, if not beat him.

 MSNBC pundit Chris Matthews, who has hinted at a run in the past, also trails Toomey by four points (42-38). Attorney General Kathleen Kane lags behind Toomey by six points, but polls one point ahead of the Senator in name recognition.

“Early indications are that Pennsylvania will have one of the most hard fought Senate races in the country next year,” said Dean Debnam, President of Public Policy Polling. “Pat Toomey hasn’t made a very strong impression on voters one way or another in his first four years in the Senate, and that leaves him pretty vulnerable if the Democrats are able to land a strong candidate.”

While The Hill talks up Toomey’s former opponent, Sestak, as PPP points out, Toomey’s biggest threat may be former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell.

Former two-term Governor Ed Rendell leads the pack of potential Democratic challengers, besting Toomey 44-41 in a hypothetical matchup. Rendell owns a substantial 17-point advantage with Independents, and leads with both men and women (+1 and +6, respectively). Should Rendell decide to enter the race, he would start with a decided name recognition advantage over Toomey, 85-63.

At 71, Rendell may not be interested in what would likely be a long, grueling campaign; however, that hasn’t stopped some media outlets from speculating — Philadelphia Magazine, for one..

It’s tough for us to see Ed Rendell in the Senate. The man is a chief — not somebody who would risk getting his voice drowned out by 99 others. He just seems bigger than that, somehow.

There’s only one reason to believe he would ever make the run, in fact: Because he could win.

A new poll from Public Policy Polling suggests that Rendell — who has given no indication of desiring a Senate run — is actually the leading candidate for the Senate seat now held by Pat Toomey.

Still, as regards Toomey himself, whatever the Democrats decide to do, it’s not hard to imagine Team Toomey now kicking itself for abandoning the conservative base that fought to get him elected in 2010 once he got to Washington.

Ironically, the event was reminiscent of the kind Specter—the man he tried to depose in 2004 and would later help drive out of office in 2010—would routinely have with conservatives angry about the moderate Republican’s latest defection. Conservatives would never shower him with love as they would Toomey, but during Specter’s 30-year Senate career, the events were usually nonetheless effective. “I can remember taking Specter into 200 meetings like this,” said Chris Nicholas, who managed the late senator’s campaigns. “It was kind of eerie trip down memory lane for that.”


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