ON THE ROAD: Pennsylvania's Race Gets Dirty As Sestak Slings Feces

Jillian Bandes

10/28/2010 7:13:57 AM - Jillian Bandes

In his final push against Republican Pat Toomey in the Pennsylvania Senate race, an advertisement from Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak features a bag of feces collected from his family dog. Sestak swings the bag into the trash can, and equates it with the policies of his opponent.

Toomey’s response to this ad is more moderated at a recent campaign event in Sewickley, Pennsylvania. With that advertisement as the baseline, though, it’s hard to think of a response that wouldn’t seem measured.

“The DCC is spending more money attacking me with lies and dishonest ads than they have in any other state,” said Toomey. “That’s how badly they want to win this race.”

Toomey wants it pretty bad himself, even if he’s not resorting to a campaign based on excrement in order to get it. That may be because he doesn’t have to — it’s almost impossible to track spending by outside interest groups at this point, but some estimates funding of Toomey’s race by outside interest groups at 2-to-1 over Sestak. Donations are coming in everywhere from the Chamber of Commerce, to Super PAC American Crossroads, which is advised by Karl Rove.

Toomey sticks mostly to the issues on his most recent bus tour throughout the state this week. The more rural areas of Pennsylvania like Sewickley are key; he’ll have to win big there to combat Sestak’s stronghold in the cities.

“Serial bailouts of failed companies. Government nationalizing whole industries. Spending money on a scale that I never thought was possible. Corresponding debts and deficits that are completely unsustainable,” said Toomey. “You add in cap-and-trade, government run health care... is it any wonder we don’t have a recovery going on?”

An estimated $11 million has been spent in Pennsylvania by outside advocacy groups in total, following a national trend of obsessive campaign expenditures that have not been deterred by the pricey Pittsburgh and Philadelphia media markets. The result has been a topsy-turvy campaign that has Sestak up one moment and Toomey up the next; the race seemed to even out a few days ago, but then more polls were released showing Toomey with a lead in the past day or two. At this point, most analysts are putting the advantage in Toomey’s court, but he’s just taking it all in stride.

“We feel good. We’ve done a great job, our message is clear, but there are 1.2 million more Democrats in Pennsylvania than there are Republicans,” said Tim Kelly, Toomey’s press secretary. “It’s going to be a fight to the finish.”

If he gets there, it would be an impressive accomplishment for the conservative stalwart. Claims of Toomey being “too conservative” for Pennsylvania were exacerbated when Sestak started to call Toomey’s campaign the "O'Donnell-Toomey-Palin" ticket, in reference to Delaware Republican candidate Christine O’Donnell, who is right across the border. Many Pennsylvanians are Democrats from birth, and attaching the tea party label to a Republican here doesn’t do him any good. Toomey has responded by saying that he “doesn’t agree” with O’Donnell, but supporters are quick to insist that he’s a principled conservative through and through.

“Nobody’s more principled than Pat Toomey,” said House Republican Whip Mike Turzai, the state representative from Allegheny County. “No doubt about it, absolutely.”

Roger Boff of Wexford, Pennsylvania, is a little more cynical about it.

“If he doesn’t [stick to his word], I’m going to be just as adamant about sticking it on them,” he said.

It was almost perfectly clear that Boff wasn’t talking about dog poo.