Former U.S. Rep. Pat Toomey is widely considered to be the reason Sen. Arlen Specter changed parties from Republican to Democrat as Specter was behind him in the polls. The wind has been at his campaign's back ever since.
Toomey won the Republican nomination for the Senate seat and in a reliably blue state such as Pennsylvania, he has been holding his own and has a war chest in the millions to use against senatorial challenger, U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Pa.
Toomey spoke with The Philadelphia Tribune and explained why he thought his message was resonating with voters and making this election so close. In part, it has been a referendum at the national political scene that has trickled down to the Keystone state.
"I think voters realize that the federal government in Washington should be focusing on job growth and it hasn't been. I think they realize that the federal government is spending too much money and this is going to, this could bankrupt our country if they continue on this path," he said. "It could prevent our kids, our grandkids from achieving the standard of living that they ought to be able to achieve but with the amount of debt that we're saddling them with, there's a real danger about that."
Toomey, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from Pennsylvania's 15th district from January 1993 to January 2005, touted his biography as another reason for connecting with an "up for grabs" electorate.
"My background as a business owner, my background in Congress fighting against wasteful spending including very much standing up to my own party when my own party was spending too much and was abandoning its principles," he said. "I think that's very appealing to people in this economic environment."
African Americans are a demographic that has been hit hard by the economic downturn and Toomey expressed a desire to help. He acknowledged that Blacks predominately voted Democratic but would not concede any potential support.
"I define myself as someone who is going to focus very effectively on restoring economic growth and job creation. That's my biggest priority. I think that's the most important thing to just about every Pennsylvanian that I talk to. My background as a small business owner -- someone who has launched a business, created a business, created hundreds of jobs -- that's a background that gives me the understanding of how to do this," he said. "I think the federal government is pursuing many policies that are having a chilling effect on the economy, preventing the kind of recovery we should be having and I want to reverse those, block those policies and pursue those that are going to create job growth and I think that's a message that's going to appeal very broadly."
Toomey also expounded on his desire to give parents more options with their children's education.
"I think school choice is one that I know many African Americans are interested in pursuing. I've long believed that parents ought to be able to choose the schools their child attends and that the funding for primary and secondary education should follow the child to the school that's chosen by the parent," he said.
"That would, I think, open up many tremendously beneficial educational opportunities for African Americans and other Americans especially in urban areas where you have a sufficient density to create a number of meaningful choices."
Renee Amoore, deputy chair of the Republican State Committee, dismissed any notion that Black voters would automatically ignore Toomey's efforts to reach out. She argued that Toomey has a vested interest in minorities and has sought her help to improve their conditions.
"We deal with a lot of ex-offenders. We do trainings in the prison. We do a lot of welfare work training, training people to get G.E.D.s and that whole thing so I let him know that there had to be more money in that arena for people would be able to make it. And he understood that," Amoore said.
"He understands economic development as far as jobs. He understands small businesses and that's so important for me because I'm a small business owner.
He understands that if you keep taxing small businesses over and over again then we're not going to be able to survive and those are the kind of things that I want my senator to understand."
Amoore also said that there was a misconception that Republicans did not care about Blacks or issues that were of concern to them. She placed some of that fault on the party for not being more vocal about its efforts.
"I think what happens is that we Republicans, we don't brag enough. We do a lot. People don't see that because there's a target on our back all the time that we're racist, that the Republican party is all white men and I've been Black a long time so that's not true," she said. "Again, it's about getting the message out and how do we get the message out? It's about bragging."
Toomey, who is pro-life and is in favor of a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage, could sour votes with his stances with Blacks but Terry Madonna doubted this would be effective in this current cycle.
The pundit, who is director of the center for politics and public affairs, professor of public affairs, and director of the Franklin & Marshall College poll, stated that those asked had more pressing matters in mind.
"Normally, he would have a tough problem because African Americans are heavily committed to the Democrats. Having said that, it's even tougher for someone I think who didn't support the stimulus, wouldn't support an extension of employment compensation," Madonna said. "I'm not suggesting that abortion and gay rights and guns aren't important but there are some campaigns where certain issues predominate and that's what voters use as their key when it comes to voting.
"So, this year, we're finding that things like guns, abortion, gay marriage, they're not even on the radar of voters when we ask them what do you care about, what do you think about."
Madonna's data found that health care, the economy and issues that governed daily lives were of crucial importance to voters.
Toomey, who returned to politics because of his dissatisfaction with the status quo, declared he was more than up to the task of addressing those reservations.
"I'm just very concerned that this is a very important moment in the history of our country and we need a pro-economic growth policy that will encourage job creation and economic growth and restore fiscal discipline to our government in Washington and I know that Joe Sestak totally disagrees," Toomey said. "He wants to keep growing government, keep borrowing and spending, more debt. So, we have fundamentally different views. I'm convinced that mine are the right views for Pennsylvania and our economy and I think I can make a constructive contribution."