As Trump rocks GOP boat, Toomey likely to join convention no-shows
Sen. Pat Toomey doubts he’ll attend the Republican National Convention in Cleveland next month when billionaire businessman Donald Trump almost certainly will get the party’s nomination.
Reps. Tim Murphy of Upper St. Clair and Keith Rothfus of Sewickley, who like Toomey are up for re-election, haven’t decided whether they will attend.
Since Trump appeared on the debate stage in August, he has proved to be a divisive figure who turns off regular Republicans and conservatives who view his unorthodox language as offensive and positions as out of line with the party’s orthodoxy, said Lara Brown, political scientist at George Washington University.
The 2012 Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, has said he won’t attend the convention. Neither will the Bush political clan: former Presidents George W. and George H.W. and vanquished Trump foe Jeb.
“It makes sense for members seeking re-election to avoid any association with (Trump) or the big party in Cleveland,” Brown said, adding that could be toxic to a more serious lawmaker such as Toomey.
Toomey’s campaign spokesman suggests the Lehigh Valley Republican’s tough re-election campaign and hectic summer schedule are the main reasons he might not go.
“Sen. Toomey will have a busy campaign schedule in Pennsylvania in the summer, so it’s not likely he will attend the convention, but he has not ruled it out, and will make a scheduling judgment much later in the summer,” said campaign spokesman Steve Kelly.
Toomey faces Democrat Katie McGinty of suburban Philadelphia in November for the U.S. Senate seat he has held since 2010. The latest polling in May by Quinnipiac University showed the race is extremely close.
Staff members at the Rothfus and Murphy congressional offices in Washington said the congressmen’s final decisions on whether to attend are pending.
Butler County Republican Rep. Mike Kelly must attend. He was selected as an alternate delegate for the convention, requiring him to vote on rules for the nominating procedures. Rep. Bill Shuster of Everett in Bedford County was elected a delegate in the April primary and also has to go.
Trump dominated across economic and education levels in his Pennsylvania primary win, won all 67 counties and drove up voter participation, Brown said.
“This is not about elected officials being skittish about being associated with someone who voters did not respond to positively. It’s more about if his candidacy repels the independent and Democrat crossover voters incumbents need to hold their seats,” Brown said.
Toomey endorsed Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in the beginning of the primary contests, voted for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in the Pennsylvania primary after Rubio dropped out, and wrote an op-ed for The Philadelphia Inquirer last month in which he noted he is reserving judgment regarding Trump.
State party chair Rob Gleason said it makes sense for Toomey to stay put in Pennsylvania to focus on his challenging re-election. “He does have a big race, and McGinty is going to be tough. The race is going to be fairly close, and she is going to have a lot of money,” he said.
As far as worrying about Trump hurting Toomey or any other Republican on the ticket, Gleason said the state does not vote straight party anymore. “The last time there were big coattails in this state was when Ronald Reagan ran in 1980,” he said.
Gleason noted that Pennsylvanians have historically split their tickets since. “There was Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore and Republican Rick Santorum who both won the state in 2000, and in 2014, Democrat Tom Wolf won the governor’s office but everything down ballot was just about all Republican,” he said.
In 2012, then Rep. Mark Critz of Johnstown decided attending the Democratic National Convention would not be in his re-election’s best interest and that “focusing on job creation” was best.
He joined three top West Virginia Democrats — Sen. Joe Manchin, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and Rep. Nick Rahall — in snubbing the event.
All four were strong critics of President Obama in the months leading up to the president’s re-election; while Obama won Pennsylvania, albeit by a lesser amount than in 2008, Critz lost his seat that November to Rothfus.
Salena Zito is a staff writer for the Tribune-Review. She can be reached at [email protected].