Republicans have struggled to win Presidential elections in Pennsylvania. But, they have shown a continual ability to win other contests down-ballot. Witness then Republican Senator Arlen Specter’s nine point victory in 2004 even as George Bush was losing the state by 2.5 points.
In 2010, Arlen Specter’s stringent primary challenger won the GOP nod to take on the party switching Specter (D). Except Specter never made it out of the Democratic Primary, losing to Congressman Joe Sestak. In a favorable environment to Republicans Pat Toomey managed to win a narrow 80,000 vote victory even as the party’s gubernatorial candidate was carrying the state by almost 10 points.
In a preview of the road map to 2016 Toomey followed, the Republican owed his victory to Sestak due to strong margins in the GOP leaning collar counties of Chester and Bucks while also garnering a big enough margin in the Eastern portion of the state to counteract Democratic margins in Philly.
Of course, Toomey knew that his reelection six years later would be tougher than his initial campaign. Hence, the campaign tried to remake the candidate in a different mold than he had been known for. Gone was the fiery conservative that ran against then Republican Arlen Specter in the 2004 GOP primary and in his place was a thoughtful, intellectual conservative not afraid to break from his party.
Toomey’s first show showed his pragmatic, moderate streak in 2011 when he backed the Simpson-Bowles plan to increase revenue. Two years later Toomey broke with his party and backed Joe Manchin’s background checks on firearms bill. Though it failed, Toomey was broadcasting the kind of campaign he would run in 2016. Run strong in the suburbs and make up losses in Philly with strength in the rest of the state as former federal Republicans had to win statewide.
Arguably, Toomey lucked out with Trump winning Pennsylvania. But, throughout the Presidential campaign the Senator ran well ahead of Trump. Despite the similarity in the Trump’s and Toomey’s political maps to victory the ideological and geographical path they took to victory was vastly different.
Exit polls and the ultimate vote total show Toomey ran behind Trump in Dem leaning Luzerne and Erie counties. But, Toomey made up the margins in the GOP leaning Chester and Bucks suburbs. Trump lost all four Collar counties and ran behind Toomey in exurban Lancaster and Berks counties by thousands of votes.
The one thing that cannot be debated is how Toomey lucked out in his opponent. While both Sestak and Toomey ran as outsiders in 2010, Toomey dropped that idea for his reelection bid. Sestak lost his second go-round to Democratic insider Katie McGinty due to party leaders fearing him running a lackluster campaign and blaming him for their 2010 loss.
McGinty staked her campaign on a Democratic wave carrying her to victory and assuming the suburbs combined with Philly would carry her. Instead, she lost by a full half point more than Clinton and lost many Clinton voters who crossed parties to back Toomey.
Admittedly, Trump’s path was the newer path for Republican victories in the state. Trump racked up massive margins in the Eastern and Central parts of the state to the tune of over 700,000 votes. Toomey did not come close to that margin but he did not need to.
Toomey’s 5 point margin in Bucks county and 3 points in Chester meant he did not need to win the rest of the state by such a wide margin. For example, where Trump lost suburban Centre and Daulpine counties, Toomey carried both narrowly. And while Toomey did not run as as strong as Trump in rural counties he certainly did fine in his own right.
Toomey gambled and was proven right that suburban Philly voters would be receptive to a moderate, conservative GOP Senator. He was right. He banked on rural voters coming out for Trump and a candidate willing to defend their religious rights. Again, he was right. Finally, Toomey guessed his makeover would appeal to voters. It did!