Is Pat Toomey winning or losing? Despite all the polls, nobody really knows

“We don’t have a clue what the hell’s going on.”

Left: Sen. Pat Toomey. Right: Katie McGinty.

Left: Sen. Pat Toomey. Right: Katie McGinty.

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Every time Donald Trump digs himself into a deeper hole, Sen. Pat Toomey has to climb out of it without actually, well, getting out.

The incumbent Republican from Pennsylvania is locked into the re-election race of his life. He’s running against Democrat Katie McGinty, who has never before held elective office, and for the last several months, most of the many, many polls have shown the race either tied or within the margin of error.

Toomey has stayed noncommittal — seemingly as indecisive as humanly possible — on whether or not he’ll support Trump, becoming the butt of a joke on late night TV and wading through a deluge of attacks from his opponent tying him to Trump and labeling him “Fraidy Pat.” Meanwhile, the GOP presidential candidate tanks in the polls following the surfacing of a 2005 Access Hollywood tape and now 10 women who have come forward saying he sexually harassed or groped them.

It’s pretty obvious why the senator won’t take a hard stance on Trump.

Experts say he wants to appeal to moderates who may split their ticket, voting for Hillary Clinton for president and Toomey for U.S. Senate. He also doesn’t want to alienate the base by saying he unequivocally won’t cast a vote for Trump.

For Toomey, it’s all going to come down to numbers — numbers that are nearly impossible to predict. Will Trump lose Pennsylvania by double digits? And by how much would Clinton have to win Pennsylvania to put Toomey away, too?

“If Trump really flounders in the state, it may drag Pat Toomey underwater,” said Christopher Borick, director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion. “If Trump remains somewhat competitive or makes this a really close race, Pat Toomey is much more likely to have his seat back. It’s close.”

A virtual dead heat

Left: Sen. Pat Toomey. Right: Katie McGinty.

Left: Sen. Pat Toomey. Right: Katie McGinty.

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Public polls in this senate race between McGinty and Toomey have been sort of inconclusive for the last several months. Toomey had a strong lead following the primary — he was unchallenged — and consistently led McGinty in the polls through June.

But after the Democratic National Convention, McGinty pulled up in the polls and, despite several outliers on both sides, the two have largely been within the margin of error since. Real Clear Politics, which averages polls, currently has McGinty leading by 0.4 points. Last week, Toomey was leading by the same amount. Not exactly a lead either of them can bank on.

Some experts said Toomey’s dip was tied to Trump’s — the GOP presidential nominee had a hard time bouncing back following the Democratic National Convention and his feuding with a Gold Star family who spoke at the convention in favor of Clinton. Things went downhill for Trump since then.

But that’s not the case anymore. Yes, Trump has plummeted in Pennsylvania. The Real Clear Politics average has Clinton leading Trump in Pennsylvania by seven points. A Bloomberg poll taken after the release of the Access Hollywood tape showed her leading in Pennsylvania by nine points. And yet in the same time period, despite not making a decision on Trump, Toomey has held his ground. Like everything else, that probably has something to do with money.

The Pennsylvania Senate race is on track to be the most expensive congressional race in history, eclipsing the 2014 North Carolina Senate race, in which more than $100 million was spent by the candidates and outside groups.

FEC reports from mid-August show that at that time, the U.S. Senate race here was already the most expensive in the country with $101 million being spent. Of that, $25 million was spent by the candidates — the rest by outside groups, mostly major super PACs. That $101 million total topped the second-most expensive senate race in the country in New Hampshire by about $25 million.

That amount of spending and the barrage of television ads in Pennsylvania are probably what’s keeping this race within reach for both candidates.

“At this point it’s so close,” Franklin and Marshall pollster Terry Madonna said, “you’d have to say either candidate can win.”

Separating himself from Trump