Pennsylvania's too-close-to-call U.S. Senate race came down to the candidates' closing pitches to voters Saturday in Philadelphia's critical suburbs, with Democrat Katie McGinty piggybacking on events with her party's presidential headliners and Republican incumbent Pat Toomey tailoring different messages to undecided voters and the GOP faithful.
Toomey sprinted across the region, making his pitch at Republican gatherings and tying McGinty to the "absolutely devastating" economic policies of President Barack Obama and his would-be Democratic successor, Hillary Clinton, as well as Clinton's controversial use of a private email system while secretary of state.
"Folks, kind of a lot at stake," Toomey told a crowd of about 80 party faithful at a Veterans of Foreign Wars post in West Chester, 25 miles west of Philadelphia. "The entire elected government of our country, the Supreme Court, whether we're going to have the kind of security that we all deserve, the economic growth that we're capable of, or whether we're going to continue with this tawdry corruption that we've seen too much in Washington. All of this is on the ballot, it's all at stake."
The race could help determine control of the Senate as the GOP struggles to hold its 54-46 majority, prompting Toomey's warning that a McGinty victory would lift Democrats into the Senate majority, where they would allow Clinton to "rule by executive fiat."
Later, McGinty warmed up a crowd of hundreds waiting to see Vice President Joe Biden in a Bristol school gymnasium in 15 miles north of Philadelphia. Better schools, preventing "Wall Street" Toomey from handing Social Security to investment banks and getting illegal guns off the street also will be on the ballot, McGinty said.
"But there's something bigger on the ballot, too," McGinty said, turning her criticism to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. "The soul and spirit of this country is on the ballot Nov. 8. ... Human decency is on the ballot Nov. 8."
She went on to attack Toomey's middle-of-the-road stance on Trump, a point she has tried to make a high-profile campaign issue. Toomey has criticized Trump as "badly flawed" and refused to endorse, campaign with or say whether he will vote for Trump, but Toomey has not disavowed Trump, as have some Republican senators.
"In the midst of all of this, where's our man Pat Toomey? Anybody see him?" McGinty said. "He says he has some differences with the Donald. Differences? My, isn't that dainty and delicate. Here's what we know. In politics, the test of leadership and courage and character is doing the right thing, even if it costs you a few votes. Pat Toomey has failed the test."
McGinty, who served in Bill Clinton's White House and was recruited to run by national Democrats, has endorsed Clinton and campaigned with her across Democratic-leaning Pennsylvania while staying silent on Clinton's controversies.
Toomey's 10-minute speech on economic and security policy in West Chester was starkly different than the message he is broadcasting on TV in the Philadelphia area, where he is playing up bipartisan credentials. In an illustration of the tightrope Toomey is walking, he is even turning to Obama for help, featuring the president in an ad praising Toomey in 2013 for working with Democrats on legislation to expand background checks on firearms purchases.
Toomey did not mention gun control in his speech. He also did not mention Trump. Asked afterward about his closing strategy to persuade undecided voters, Toomey called McGinty a "rubber stamp" for Clinton.
"I think Pennsylvanians want an independent voice who's going to stand up to bad ideas from either president from any party," Toomey said. "And I think I've demonstrated a track record of working across the aisle and getting things done for Pennsylvania."
Toomey, who compiled among Congress' most conservative voting records, is one of the Senate's most endangered incumbents, and bolstering his moderate credentials could be crucial to winning the swing voters from whom he'll likely need strong support to beat McGinty.
McGinty entered the race little-known among voters and has relied heavily on rallies headlined by high-profile Democrats swarming to the presidential battleground state. Also critical for McGinty's fortunes will be a heavy turnout in Pennsylvania's largest city, the Democratic bastion of Philadelphia.
Polls show Clinton ahead of Trump by a narrowing, single-digit percentage-point lead in a state that has not backed a Republican for president since 1988.