- Associated Press - Sunday, January 24, 2016

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Long optimistic about U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey winning a second term in Pennsylvania, Republicans now have something to worry about - and it is not necessarily a strong Democratic Party challenger.

Rather, a number of top Pennsylvania Republicans are fretting about a divisive Republican presidential nominee souring the state’s moderate, swing voters against Toomey - not to mention other Republican candidates on the ballot - and dooming his re-election bid in November.

The stakes are tremendous, with Democrats hoping to retake control of the U.S. Senate.

“The Democrats cannot win the United States Senate without beating Pat Toomey,” said Rob Gleason, the chairman of Pennsylvania’s Republican Party.

But, in a state where Democrats hold a four-to-three registration edge over Republicans, political analysts and strategists say Toomey cannot win in a presidential election year without attracting support from conservative Democrats or independent voters. And a number of Republicans argue that nominating the poll-leading Donald Trump or Ted Cruz, the Texas senator, would make that task far more difficult for Toomey.

In political parlance, it’s the “coattails” theory - the worse the presidential candidate does, the worse that party’s other candidates on the ballot will do. Not everyone says they ascribe to it. Gleason, for instance, insisted Pennsylvania voters are accustomed to ticket-splitting - choosing a candidate, regardless of party.

And Lowman Henry, who is the Cruz campaign’s state chairman in Pennsylvania, said a hard-line conservative candidate like Cruz will help Toomey more than would a more moderate candidate.

“The mushy moderates don’t turn out the base,” Henry said, “and Ted Cruz will turn out the base, big time.”

But after speaking at the Pennsylvania GOP’s gathering in Hershey last weekend, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham warned of a Republican nominee who is too ideological or repulsive to key constituencies, such as Hispanics and younger women.

“There are some people running for president, like Mr. Trump, who I think would continue a demographic slide that would make it hard for us to win and us to hold the Senate,” Graham told reporters.

Jim Roddey, the Allegheny County GOP chairman, contended that neither Trump nor Cruz will inspire voters tired of acrimony and divisiveness in politics, and that will trickle down to hurt Toomey and every other Republican candidate down the ballot.

Toomey is saying little about it.

He intends to support the eventual Republican presidential nominee, whoever it is, he said, and he avoided discussing his feelings about how a Trump or Cruz nomination would affect his chances.

“I try to make it a point not to worry about things I can’t control,” Toomey said.

For Toomey, 2016 will be a much different year than 2010, when he eked out a 2 percentage point victory over Democrat Joe Sestak. For one thing, 2010 was a historic year for Republicans. For another, there was no presidential election, which tends to draw out a higher proportion of registered Democrats to vote.

Still, Toomey has plenty to be optimistic about.

He headed into 2016 with nearly $10 million in his campaign’s account - four times what his nearest Democratic rival has reported - and, with the party unified behind him, he is unlikely to face a serious primary challenge, if any.

Meanwhile, Democrats could field a three-person primary between Sestak, Katie McGinty and John Fetterman, none of whom are a household name. They very likely will spend millions of dollars by the April 26 primary election, and the winner could emerge with next to nothing in the bank.

Chester County GOP Chairman Valentino DiGiorgio, who is backing Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, said he at one point believed a Cruz or Trump nomination would sink Toomey. That was a few months ago.

Now, DiGiorgio said, he has changed his mind about Trump, if not Cruz. Trump, he said, could more easily attract some voters - such as blue-collar Democrats or people who tend to shun politics - than other Republicans, even if Trump loses some moderate Republicans.

Christopher Borick, a pollster and political science professor at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, said a Trump or Cruz nomination is a real concern for Republicans in Pennsylvania. To a large extent, voter decisions are based around their presidential preference, Borick said.

“In some cases, you’re held captive to that if you’re running down-ballot,” Borick said. “I’m sure the Toomey campaign thinks about that night and day.”

___

Marc Levy covers politics and government for The Associated Press in Pennsylvania. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/timelywriter. His work can be found at https://bigstory.ap.org/author/marc-levy .

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