Toomey/McGinty: Who's more vulnerable?

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Democratic Senate candidate Katie McGinty and incumbent Republican Sen. Pat Toomey.

DOES MILLIONAIRE Pat Toomey want to give old folks' Social Security money to his Wall Street pals?

Did millionaire Katie McGinty use public service to line her own pockets?

In Pennsylvania's tick-tight Senate race, such questions are coming at voters through TV ads, doorways, social media and snail mail.

This sort of stuff is great fodder and generally more effective than saying "he's too far right" or "she's too far left."

So, as campaigns scream into their final weeks, expect some fiscal shout-outs.

The Social Security thing's reliable in a state with the nation's fifth-highest percentage (17 percent) of residents 65 and older, a bloc known for voting.

So we see or hear of older folks dismayed that Toomey wants them destitute.

It's a holler honed by Democrats over several campaigns, including Toomey's 2010 run. But like most political responses to complexity, it's overstated.

Fact-checkers - including FactCheck.org, the respected non-partisan voters' advocate from Penn's Annenberg Public Policy Center - say the same thing.

Toomey worked on Wall Street. He supports allowing younger earners - "in their 20's, 30's, possibly 40's," he tells me - to voluntarily put a portion of SS into Vanguard, the huge investment-management company based in Malvern.

He says SS is unsustainable, and doing nothing is irresponsible, but he would "never support any change in benefits to those close to retirement or retired."

When I ask if he ever backed full privatization, though, he says, "I don't remember," (which, come on, you'd think one would remember) adding, "Not in the sense that we've got an ongoing commitment" to beneficiaries.

Tagging almost any Republican, especially a rich one, on entitlements is easy. Toomey, like many Republicans, has a horrible rating (4 percent) with the Alliance for Retired Americans, a national advocacy group. And the issue is ripe for scare-mongering, even with little or no basis to believe benefits are at risk.

So expect to hear about Toomey's "agenda" to privatize Social Security.

As for McGinty, her soft spot might be her in-and-out of government resume, the "revolving door."

She was Gov. Rendell's environmental chief, then worked with several energy/environmental companies, made lots of money (she and Toomey show millionaire assets in required financial filings), lost a bid for governor and returned briefly to public office as Gov. Wolf's chief of staff before running for Senate.

Toomey went at McGinty early, with a "revolving door" ad featuring McGinty walking through a revolving door.

It says McGinty pushed government money at corporations that later hired her. And since voters are quick to believe the worst, suggesting McGinty played crony-ball for financial gain can strike home. Expect the issue to return.

McGinty tells me, "The truth matters ... it's fabrication, and voters are smart enough to see through that."

A similar "revolving door" ad from a pro-Toomey PAC hit McGinty for handing state grants to her husband's "company" while Secretary of Environmental Protection.

FactCheck.org called it misleading, noting McGinty's husband didn't have a "company;" he was a consultant to the nonprofit Pennsylvania Environmental Council, which got more grants under prior administrations.

Still, this is a little dicey since a subsequent Ethics Commission ruling said such grants should be overseen by someone outside McGinty's office.

Leaving government for the private sector or getting rich doing so isn't new or unusual, but - like evident conflicts while in government - it can be made to sound nasty.

When staged against the backdrop of McGinty's big-family, middle-class upbringing and empathy with working folk, it can be a palpable hit, even if thin on substance.

So, as other issues drive this race, Social Security and revolving doors bear watching.

baerj@phillynews.com

Blog: ph.ly/BaerGrowls

Columns: ph.ly/JohnBaer