A peek inside our nicknamed Senate race

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

TODAY'S TOPIC: "Fraidy-Pat" and "Shady Katie."

They're not scary clowns. They're not Halloween costumes. They're not new toys for the coming holiday season.

They're a pair of major-party millionaires in a U.S. Senate race that could determine control of "the world's greatest deliberative body."

(That designation wasn't originally intended as sarcasm. It's attributed to James Buchanan, Pennsylvania's only president, 1857 to 1861, and subject of a new Robert Strauss biography, Worst. President. Ever. But I digress.)

The nicknames "Fraidy" and "Shady," assigned by the candidates' opponents, reflect a level of discourse in our politics not unlike but not as low as what's going on at the top of the ticket between "Crooked Hillary" and "Trump the Terrible."

OK, I made that last one up. Hillary doesn't proffer nicknames. Or, if she does, she deletes them.

"Fraidy" is Pat Toomey, incumbent Republican, so tagged for being afraid of offending Trump supporters, and thereby risking re-election, by disavowing his party's presidential nominee no matter what that nominee says, does or grabs.

"Shady" is Katie McGinty, Toomey's Democratic challenger, so-called for once drawing a state Ethics Commission no-no regarding the award of state grants to a group to which her husband was a consultant and for a suspect in-and-out-of-government work history that helped make her rich.

The race is, let's say, slippery.

Look at six polls within the last 10 days: Toomey up 8 points (Quinnipiac); McGinty up 6 (Franklin and Marshall); tied (Monmouth); McGinty up 4 (NBC/Wall Street Journal); tied (CBS News); Toomey up 4 (Susquehanna).

Either voters are experiencing electoral whiplash, or the race is tied.

Let's go with the last. Let's also note that neither candidate gets 51 percent in any recent poll. And let's acknowledge that the top of the ticket, how well Clinton does in the state, almost certainly determines the Senate race outcome.

Toomey has more obstacles: a Republican running in a presidential year in a state that votes Democratic in such years, at a time when ticket-splitting is declining, against a woman who'd be the state's first female senator in a year it appears we're electing the nation's first female president.

Oh, and doing so while refusing to rule out supporting Trump even after release of Trump's groping-women tape, which caused many other Republicans to bolt and outraged women nationwide.

Yet the race is tied.

GOP consultant Chris Nicholas, who has no connection to Toomey's campaign, suggests it's because there are Clinton/Toomey voters.

"I think moderate Democrats voting for Clinton because of her experience could vote for Toomey because of his experience rather than McGinty, who's never been elected," Nicholas says.

But are there enough?

Clinton, according the RealClear Politics average of polls, leads Trump here by 8.6 points.

State pollster Terry Madonna, of F&M, says that if Clinton's lead stands or grows - he believes the full impact of the Trump tape could take a few more days to measure - "it's hard to see Toomey getting enough crossover voters" to win.

But pollster Chris Borick, of Muhlenberg College, notes Toomey/McGinty is polling much closer than Clinton/Trump: "It could be Toomey can squeak by a Clinton margin of 7 or 8. It's a possibility."

Meanwhile, McGinty taunts Toomey almost hourly, calling for him to "man up" and fully denounce Trump. And Toomey insists that, unlike McGinty, he's a truly independent voice, not some partisan "rubber stamp," which is code for "If you are not sold on the whole Democratic agenda, consider some balance in Washington."

The first of two Senate debates is in Pittsburgh on Monday and will be offered for broadcast statewide. Bet the nicknames, or the reasons behind them, are very much part of the action.