HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey and Democratic challenger Katie McGinty went after each other in their first debate, with him sharpening an attack accusing her of enriching herself with taxpayer money and her pressing him over his refusal to say whether he'll vote for GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump.
The Pennsylvania U.S. Senate race has become increasingly nasty, and Monday's debate showed it, with a range of clashes, including on health care and energy policy. Toomey argued his criticism of Trump makes him independent of his party's presidential nominee and accused McGinty of being too partisan to criticize Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
McGinty, who has endorsed Clinton, said Toomey made up a "story line" to accuse her of enriching herself with state grants a decade ago while she was the state's environmental protection chief. She countered Toomey is the country's only U.S. Senate candidate who hasn't told voters whether he'll vote for Trump, who has referred to Mexicans as "rapists" and been accused of groping women, something he denies.
McGinty even ceded her response time on one question to Toomey to put the spotlight back on him. Pressed repeatedly by moderators at KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh to say whether he'll tell voters how he's going to vote in the presidential election, Toomey finally said "at some point I probably will."
The first-term Toomey is among the Senate's most endangered Republicans, running for re-election in a state where registered Democrats hold a 4-3 ratio advantage over Republicans. The GOP is struggling to keep its 54-46 Senate majority, and the neck-and-neck race could tip control to Democrats.
The hour-long debate was taped Monday afternoon and was to be broadcast at 7 p.m. A second debate is set for Oct. 24 in Philadelphia.
Toomey has repeatedly sought to distance himself from Trump, and on Monday he rejected Trump's suggestions the Pennsylvania election will be rigged, saying, "Our elections ... are legitimate."
Perhaps the sharpest exchange in the debate was after a question about whether police officers' bias poisons their relationships with communities. Toomey accused McGinty of helping to propagate a narrative police are "rogue racists causing violence."
McGinty, the daughter of a former police officer, took exception to that.
"There's only one of us on this stage who kissed her dad goodbye in the morning not knowing, after he walked his beat for 35 years, 25 as a Philadelphia police officer, whether dad was coming home for dinner, and he has suggested that I or any of my family would do anything other than revere our law enforcement officers," McGinty said. "It's really unacceptable."
She accused Toomey of voting to "severely defund" a community policing program she wants to expand.
Toomey was unbowed.
"It sounds like more of how Katie was the first in her family to go to college," he responded, referencing a campaign gaffe by McGinty, who had repeatedly said she was the first in her big family to go to college even though an older brother graduated from college years before her.