PITTSBURGH - Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey and Democratic challenger Katie McGinty went after each other in their first debate, with him sharpening an attack accusing her of enriching herself with taxpayer money and her pressing him over his refusal to say whether he will vote for GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump.
The Pennsylvania U.S. Senate race has become increasingly nasty, and Monday's debate showed it, with a range of clashes, including on health care and energy policy. Toomey argued that his criticism of Trump at least makes him independent of his party's presidential nominee, but he accused McGinty of being too partisan to criticize Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, "including all her lies."
McGinty, who has endorsed Clinton, said Toomey had made up his own "story line" to accuse her of enriching herself with taxpayer money. She countered that Toomey is the only candidate running for U.S. Senate in the country who has not leveled with voters and told them whether he would vote for Trump, who has referred to Mexicans as "rapists," has proposed banning Muslims from entering the U.S. and has been accused of groping women, something he has denied.
McGinty even ceded her response time to Toomey to put the spotlight back on him. Pressed repeatedly by the moderators at KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh to say whether he will tell voters how he's going to vote in the presidential election, Toomey finally said "at some point I probably will."
The first-term Toomey is among the Senate's most endangered Republicans, running for re-election in a state where registered Democrats hold a 4-3 ratio advantage over Republicans. The GOP is struggling to hold onto its 54-46 Senate majority, and the neck-and-neck race could tip control to Senate Democrats.
Perhaps the sharpest exchange in the debate was after a question about whether police officers' bias is poisoning their relationships with communities. Toomey used the moment to accuse McGinty of helping to propagate a narrative that police are "a bunch of rogue racists causing violence."
McGinty, the daughter of a former Philadelphia police officer, took exception to that.
"There's only one of us on this stage who kissed her dad goodbye in the morning not knowing, after he walked his beat for 35 years, 25 as a Philadelphia police officer, whether dad was coming home for dinner, and he has suggested that I or any of my family would do anything other than revere our law enforcement officers," McGinty said. "It's really unacceptable."
She went on to say that she supports expanding a federally funded community policing program, a program she accused Toomey of voting to "severely defund."
Toomey was unbowed.
"It sounds like more of how Katie was the first in her family to go to college," he responded, referencing a previous campaign gaffe by McGinty, who had said she was the first in her big family to go to college even though an older brother graduated from college years before her.
The candidates then quarreled over his statement that he had been endorsed by every police organization that makes endorsements in Pennsylvania. She insisted that she also had such endorsements, leading to a back-and-forth during which he said, "you haven't been able to name anyone who has endorsed you."
An officer of a union local that represents Port Authority of Allegheny County transit police later said that the local had endorsed McGinty.
The hour-long debate was taped at KDKA in Pittsburgh on Monday afternoon. It will air on 69-WFMZ-TV at 9 p.m. Saturday.
The two candidates are scheduled to take part in a second and final debate next Monday, October 24, in Philadelphia.
The election is Tuesday, November 8.
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