A day in the life: On the road with the Toomey campaign

Pamela Varkony Contributor
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On an early autumn day of above average temperatures and cloudless Pennsylvania blue sky, the morning starts with a bang for Pennsylvania U.S. Senate candidate Pat Toomey. As he begins his remarks to the faithful gathered at the Republican State Committee meeting in the Harrisburg Hilton, a photographer standing on a chair behind the podium falls off the stage and comes crashing to the floor. Toomey, known for his unflappable demeanor, never flinches. The two recovered quickly; one shakes it off, the other assures the audience all is well and launches in to an exhortation to “make one more phone call, knock on one more door”.

House Minority Leader John Boehner, who had addressed the group the night before, provided the perfect lead-in for Toomey’s conservative message of limited government and fiscal responsibility. “We made our mistakes when we were in the majority, I’ll admit it,” Boehner said.

In his morning remarks and during an interview later in the day, Toomey drove home his message that bloated budgets and out of control spending were not going to occur on his watch. Accusing President Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of leading the country down a path of “diminished opportunity,” he called forth the spirit of Ronald Reagan, “It’s a time for choosing.”

Closing his speech with “Victory is in reach, but not in hand,” the former three-term congressman walked through the crowd shaking hands and repeating “Thank you for your support.”

That support may be softer than the campaign would like. In a race that is just five percentage points apart according to the Suffolk University poll published on September 28, with a margin for error of 4.4 percentage points, the oft-heard phrase from the Toomey camp is, “We’re confident but not complacent.” Other polls give more of a spread with Toomey, ranging from six to nine points, but none of those numbers qualify for complacency with less than five weeks to go.

Running the gauntlet of wannabes and well-wishers from the ballroom to a waiting SUV challenged the staffers trying valiantly to stay on schedule: “Pat, I just wanted to introduce myself… Congressman, we met a few years ago when I worked in Washington… My husband and I have a solar energy business we’d like to tell you about.”

Next stop, the Bloomsburg Fair: Located in the “northern tier,” the heart of Pennsylvania’s Reagan Democrats, it’s a staple of every statewide campaign. Waiting staff, carrying Toomey signs, looked for shade and “Democratic trackers” on a 90 degree day. According to one staffer, the trackers follow Toomey at his campaign stops, heckling and holding up negative signs in the middle of press events, and photo ops. Their goal is to disrupt the campaign and try to prod the candidate in to a YouTube moment. The decision is made to not immediately announce Toomey’s arrival over the fair’s loudspeaker system.

Heading into the crowd, affirmations of name recognition come through shouts of “We’re rooting for you, Pat.” One man reaches out and says, “I used to be a Democratic committeeman. I couldn’t stand it anymore. Now I’m an independent…and I’m with you.”
At the Heirloom Florals booth, a man says, “I could throw a baseball from my house and hit four people who are out of work. I don’t know where ‘they’ get that number of 10 percent unemployment.” Referring to President Obama’s new infrastructure plan, he says, “You can’t change that by building roads and bridges… highway construction is not the way to stimulate the economy.”

At a stop for fresh made cider, a man in a John Deere hat, says, “We need a real conservative.” Further down the fairway, manning the GOP booth that is plastered with signs of the local and statewide candidates, a township commissioner tells Toomey, “There’s a lot of pain out there.”

While the candidate eats a sausage sandwich, state Representative David Millard of Pennsylvania’s 109th District, who has been escorting Toomey through the fair, offers his views on the election and the economy. The summary: It’s all about jobs, the tax structure, and getting out of the way of small business. And yes, the Republicans need to return to the majority in the U.S. House and Senate to make it all happen.

The conversation is interrupted by a family asking Rep. Millard if he knows why Betty’s Blueberry Stand is not in its usual spot. The news was not good. Betty passed away.

The midway disappears in the Lincoln Navigator’s rearview mirror as it heads north on PA Highway 11. Three hours later, the “Lackawanna Victory Center” in downtown Scranton is buzzing with a phone bank in full swing and several dozen supporters awaiting their candidate.

Toomey, a solid but low-key campaigner, comes alive in this setting, delivering remarks that sound like what they are; a conversation with a group of friends. “I know you could all be somewhere else on this beautiful Saturday afternoon,” he says. To which the reply from the crowd is, “We made over 2,000 phone calls for you today, Pat.”

Between photo ops and reminders that “your kids and grandkids futures are at stake in this election,” Toomey submits to an on-the-run interview with The Daily Caller.

The first item on the Toomey agenda when elected: The job creation that is desperately needed will be first unless the 2003 tax cuts have not been extended by then, which would make fixing that a priority. Second would be getting federal spending under control, including recalling the unspent portion of the stimulus bill. More bailouts: Forget about it. No more wracking up massive debt.

When it comes to reinvigorating the economy, the Toomey doctrine is to count on the innovators, entrepreneurs and private sector. Take away the threats of cap and trade, card check, and stabilize the tax code so people don’t get punished for being productive. The job of the federal government is to create an environment where people are comfortable taking risk, he said. That’s the story of America.
There’s no chance we can grow our way out of this deficit, Toomey explained. Forecasts, he said, project that staying on the current path means the deficit will eventually exceed 100 percent of GDP, which he says is unsustainable. Economic growth has to be accompanied by spending cuts, he added.

What role will the Chinese play in all this, and aren’t they now in a position of strength? Well yes, said Toomey, if they stopped buying our debt, we’d be in huge trouble. But on the other hand they’re holding a trillion dollars of our debt, so they’re wondering if they’re going to get paid back with valuable dollars or less valuable dollars. Both sides have a lot at risk. Depending on any country to finance our excessive spending is very irresponsible, Toomey proffered.

Repealing the new health care bill is also on the Toomey agenda, as is replacing it with reforms to help physicians provide services at more affordable prices, improve access for people who don’t have it, all while not disrupting existing health care for people who do have it.

Toomey believes health insurance should be deductible for people who buy it on their own and insurance companies should be able to compete across state lines. The cost of medical malpractice liability needs to be addressed, he adds.

For the people who have benefited from the health care provisions that have just kicked in, Toomey says, we have to be careful and thoughtful about how we do it, but we must transition away from this monstrous bill and instead provide more personal freedom and affordability through things like tax deductions and malpractice reform.

There’s no simple answer for the warnings that homegrown terrorism is on the increase, Toomey admits, but he says it’s an important, increasing risk. Fighting the threat without violating the civil rights of Muslim Americans is a new challenge that America must deal with, said Toomey.