By USA Today October 11, 2016
WASHINGTON — In an unlikely tale that flips gun politics upside down, gun control advocates may help the GOP keep control of the U.S. Senate by backing endangered Republican Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania’s pivotal Senate race.
However, those powerful endorsements could be overshadowed by Donald Trump’s lewd comments about women, which have thrust the Republican Party into chaos and threatened to derail what had appeared to be Toomey’s growing momentum as reflected in recent polls.
Toomey has denounced Trump’s vulgar comments as indefensible, but he has stopped short of saying he won’t vote for the Republican presidential nominee. Democratic challenger Katie McGinty, who supports Hillary Clinton, has called on Toomey to “man up” and oppose Trump.
Toomey had been heading into Election Day with some high-profile help. He won the endorsement of gun safety groups headed by former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Democratic congresswoman Gabby Giffords of Arizona because of his unsuccessful quest to convince fellow Republicans to expand background checks of gun buyers. Both groups typically support Democrats, who have protested the lack of action by congressional Republicans in the wake of a string of mass shootings.
But Toomey insulated himself on the issue by championing a bill in 2013 with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., to expand background checks in the wake of the mass shooting atSandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. He bucked the majority of his party to push the legislation, which would have required background checks on anyone buying firearms at gun shows or online. The bill, backed by President Obama, failed to pass the Senate.
Toomey believes the endorsements by the Bloomberg and Giffords’ groups underscore his independence and could help pry Clinton supporters away from McGinty, who would be Pennsylvania’s first female senator if she wins. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by nearly a million people in the state.
“There are a lot of Hillary Clinton supporters who are going to support me,” predicted Toomey, who has denounced Clinton as corrupt. “I think Pennsylvania voters want a senator who is going to stand up to the bad ideas of either party.”
McGinty has pushed back against Toomey — the last surviving Republican elected statewide — for opposing a ban on assault weapons and for continuing to tout his support from the National Rifle Association.
“You see Pat Toomey in Philadelphia saying he’s all about gun control,” McGinty said. “Then outside the city, he’s bragging about his perfect record with the NRA.”
The outcome of the race between Toomey, a conservative former Wall Street banker, and McGinty, a liberal former state environmental protection chief, could be decisive in determining whether Democrats wrest control of the Senate from Republicans. Democrats need a net gain of five seats to win the majority, or four if the nation elects a Democratic vice president to break Senate ties.