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August 15, 2016

WATCH: Daughter of slain Sandy Hook principal appears in pro-Toomey ad

Through Bloomberg super-PAC, Erica Smegielski delivers a message that should worry Katie McGinty big-time.

Opinion Politics
DNC2016 and Sandy Hook Brian Hickey/PhillyVoice

Erica Smegielski's mother Dawn was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. Erica (center, in black and white dress) spoke on Wednesday, July 27, 2016 at the Democratic National Convention.

This summer’s scorching Trump vs. Clinton heat has melted away America’s collective ability to pay close attention to many other political stories.

As the Election Day countdown clock clicks closer to zero, though, the importance of the race between incumbent U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Democratic challenger Katie McGinty promises to snag a larger share of the political conversation.

Recent polls maintain that the challenger holds a small lead, likely courtesy of Hillary Clinton coattails and the Democratic Party realizing her victory could help them regain control of the Senate.

The Toomey folks have been firing away, though, with campaign messaging focused on the “sanctuary city” issue and, among others, biographical fact-checking discrepancies.

Sure, those are examples of prototypical political-playbook pushes, but two recent events should have McGinty’s folks worried about their gradually earned polling leads. Both have connections to last month’s Democratic National Convention.

The first has already gotten a bit of attention, that being former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s endorsement of Toomey.

“His pragmatic leadership in Washington deserves the support of every Pennsylvanian,” said Bloomberg, who eviscerated Trump during a DNC speech for which progressive figures were bumped out of prime-time speaking roles.

That support came in early August via an announcement from Bloomberg’s super PAC, Independence USA.

Well, that super PAC ramped up its pro-Toomey efforts, most notably through a commercial I noticed over the weekend featuring Erica Smegielski, daughter of the principal who died in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting slaughter.

Smegielski’s call for strengthened gun-control laws was among the more powerful speeches at the DNC.

“We don’t need teachers and principals going to work in fear,” she said by way of supporting Clinton at the Wells Fargo Center that night. “What we need is another mother who’s willing to do what’s right.”

Apparently, she wasn’t convinced that McGinty is that mother, though. In a 30-second spot (which you can view on the PAC’s website via this link), she recounts the tragedy and then lauds Toomey’s actions in its aftermath.

“When it came time to vote on background checks, Pat Toomey crossed party lines to do the right thing,” Smegielski says directly into the camera. “That’s who he is, and I’m grateful.”

No, a single ad does not a campaign decide. And, yes, McGinty has been vocal about her gun-control stance. With the race being so close and the impact of optics in politics (i.e. having the daughter of a slain hero vouching for a candidate), Smegielski's words could counter McGinty's stern words regarding Toomey's gun-control record.

Newtown from Independence USA PAC on Vimeo.

Toomey's campaign initially declined to comment on the ad, but then offered this statement: "The Sandy Hook families are true heroes who have lost so much. Sen. Toomey was grateful to receive an award from a leading Sandy Hook survivors' organization last year and is honored that Ms. Smegielski has chosen to speak out on his behalf."

McGinty campaign spokesman Sean Coit responded, as well.

"When it comes to gun safety, the choice in this election is crystal clear," he said. "Pat Toomey has literally been bragging about his A rating from the NRA on the campaign trail and he voted just this summer against making it harder for terrorists to buy guns. He's not a moderate on guns, period."

This is an opinion piece, though, so here's what I think: If this spot gets a bunch of airtime in the coming months, and gun-control returns to the campaign forefront,  it could prove to be a pivotal moment for the incumbent.

It's not like the staunch Second Amendment folks irked by Toomey's cooperation with Democrats are gonna jump ship and vote for the challenger, after all.

Toomey worked with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to expand background checks after the 2012 Sandy Hook shootings.