National cash fuels TV ads, shapes Pa. Senate race

A staggering amount of money is flooding into Pennsylvania's race for U.S. Senate, bringing TV ads on abortion, guns and Iran into living rooms with barely 11 weeks until the election.

In August alone, at least six different outside groups began airing new TV ads in the race between Republican incumbent Pat Toomey and Democratic challenger Katie McGinty.

In one ad by billionaire Michael Bloomberg's group, the daughter of the principal slain in the 2012 mass shooting in Connecticut's Sandy Hook Elementary School says she is grateful for Toomey's willingness to defy GOP leaders on legislation to expand gun background checks.

Meanwhile, a Planned Parenthood ad shows Pat Toomey in a 2009 television interview saying he would support legislation to ban abortion in Pennsylvania and punish doctors who perform them, even sending some to jail. McGinty supports abortion rights.

The ads come at a time when polls show a neck-and-neck race, with McGinty flattening an early lead Toomey had held in surveys before the summer, despite a couple McGinty gaffes. Spending has topped $50 million on the contest, which could tip control of the U.S. Senate.

Other ads include ones by a major labor union attacking Toomey and a group backed by billionaires Charles and David Koch attacking McGinty.

A TV ad by a national Democratic group, Senate Majority PAC, takes aim at Toomey's gun control credentials. It portrays McGinty as stronger on gun control -- McGinty supports banning the sale of assault weapons and imposing a federal limit on magazine capacity, while Toomey does not -- and shows video of Toomey last month telling an audience, "I have had a perfect record with the NRA."

Separately, a doomsday-themed ad attacks McGinty over her support for President Barack Obama's nuclear accord with Iran, paid for by the National Republican Senatorial Committee. It says, "the deal was denounced by members of McGinty's own party and puts our security in jeopardy. Katie McGinty: A risk we can't afford."

Tens of millions of dollars more in TV ads are possible in a presidential battleground state where Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 4-3 ratio.

That gives the freshman Toomey a tough hill to climb.

It is Toomey's third campaign for U.S. Senate, but his first trying to win a general election contest in a presidential election year when Democrats tend to see the biggest benefit from their registration advantage.

Complicating the landscape for Toomey is the Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. McGinty has sought to pin Toomey to every explosive Trump comment while attacking Toomey for refusing to say whether he is for or against Trump.

Toomey is keeping his distance from Trump: He is not endorsing or making joint appearances with Trump, but he is not repudiating Trump, either. McGinty has endorsed Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee.

After running successfully as a fiscal hawk in 2010's huge Republican midterm wave election, Toomey's re-election campaign kicked off by touting his efforts to work across the aisle, including on gun control, a strategy aimed at winning over Pennsylvania's large swing bloc of independent voters, conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans.

Still, Toomey ranks as among Pennsylvania's three most conservative members of Congress, according to American Conservative Union ratings, and in recent months he has increasingly followed a national Republican playbook on national security and law-and-order issues.

He challenges McGinty as being on the wrong side of a slew of those issues, and heavily touts endorsements from law-and-order groups, including the Fraternal Order of Police's nearly 40,000-strong Pennsylvania State Lodge. This past week he took a bus tour called "Keeping PA Safe" through Pennsylvania's more conservative western and northern areas.

Asked whether he is seizing on public safety and national security as winning issues for him, Toomey suggested they are unavoidable.

"The fact is, the world has become a more dangerous place because President Obama decided to retreat from everywhere around the world, and we have seen these dangers erupt everywhere, including affecting civilians," Toomey said Thursday.

McGinty isn't running from Toomey on national security issues; rather, she returns the criticism, for instance for opposing Democrats' budget legislation that carried more aid for community policing programs.

She also stands by the Iran deal, saying it dealt a blow to Iran's nuclear capability. And while Republicans say they always expected the race would tighten as the Nov. 8 election approached, McGinty argued that Toomey's focus on security issues belies a poor voting record on middle-class priorities, and the disappearance of Toomey's polling lead shows that voters are recognizing that.

"They're seeing a real character and accountability issue with Pat Toomey," McGinty said.