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WASHINGTON - With less than 100 days to go, Democrat Katie McGinty is trying to change the terms of Pennsylvania"s critical U.S. Senate race.
At a diner stop Tuesday in Bucks County, she launched a monthlong focus on economic issues - hoping to reset a contest Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) has steered toward national security and public safety.
"The biggest issue facing our country is a lack of good-paying jobs and a middle class that sees itself falling further and further behind," McGinty said in an interview.
Toomey, however, is not letting up. Minutes before McGinty"s gathering, he stood miles away with law enforcement officials in Delaware County, stressing concerns for Pennsylvanians" safety and for the police who protect them.
The dueling messages come as the rivals try to frame a race that could go a long way toward deciding control of the Senate - and as the economy and security regularly rank as voters" top priorities.
Polls show the Pennsylvania race up for grabs. A Democratic outfit, Public Policy Polling, released a survey this week showing McGinty within one percentage point of the incumbent.
Since McGinty won a hard-fought April 26 primary, she has had to focus on retrenching and rebuilding her campaign fund. Toomey, meanwhile, has tried to shape the debate, hammering away at safety issues, at times forcing McGinty into awkward, defensive stances.
She now hopes to push back.
Each week in August, her campaign plans to roll out an agenda item that she says will show her concern for the middle class while casting Toomey, a former financier, as a Wall Street crony. She has another event scheduled Wednesday in Swarthmore, Delaware County.
Her plans call for raising the minimum wage, protecting Wall Street reforms, increasing college affordability, and promoting equal pay for women.
Speaking Tuesday to roughly two dozen senior citizens at the Golden Dawn restaurant in Levittown, McGinty started with a call to protect and expand Social Security and Medicare. She said she favors changing the formula used for the annual cost-of-living increases for Social Security in a way that would likely boost payments.
In the earlier interview, McGinty said it would "make sense" to pay for such a plan - and extend Social Security"s solvency - by raising the limit on income taxed for Social Security to $250,000 from the current cap of $118,500. An aide later wrote in an email that was just one option she would consider.
McGinty"s policy focus dovetails with her campaign message that cast her as the champion of the working class, citing her blue-collar upbringing in Northeast Philadelphia.
Trading jokes with the seniors, she also accused Toomey of wanting to "privatize" Social Security - a term Democrats have long used to attack Republican plans (never enacted) to allow workers under 55 to invest some Social Security savings.
Toomey has long focused on economic issues in the House and Senate and as the head of the fiscally conservative Club for Growth. But he has staked his reelection bid on safety and security.
For months he has pledged to fight against the Iran nuclear deal and "sanctuary cities," including Philadelphia, where local officials restrict cooperation with federal authorities on immigration matters.
In Haverford Township on Tuesday, he hailed police and called for aiding officers working in a "dangerous" world.
"There are voices out there that are suggesting that law enforcement is the problem," Toomey said at a news conference, flanked by the Delaware County prosecutor and local police. "The vast majority of Pennsylvanians know better than to believe that dishonest narrative."
His campaign aides said he"s happy to have an economic debate - blasting McGinty as harmful to the middle class. Toomey"s camp pointed to her support, as Gov. Wolf"s chief of staff, for a state budget proposal that included income and sales tax hikes.
"If Katie McGinty wants to talk about the economy, she will only be hurting herself, because her record is filled with support for enormous middle-class tax increases," said Toomey spokesman Ted Kwong.
McGinty countered that Wolf"s initial budget would also have cut property taxes and Philadelphia"s wage tax.
Toomey"s camp noted his long record of fighting on fiscal issues. But national security has also taken a prominent role in the public mind amid terrorism, mass shootings, and a wrenching national debate over policing.
By pressing on these issues, Toomey also highlights his experience edge in a deeply uneasy time. He has debated and voted on acts of war and the Iran deal, for example, while McGinty has never held public office.
Both campaigns hope to push their themes to the forefront leading up to the post-Labor Day home stretch.
A Pew Research Center survey in June found that 84 percent of registered voters rated the economy as "very important" in this year"s election, the most of any issue. Second was terrorism (80 percent called it "very important") and foreign policy was third (75 percent).
In Pennsylvania, the priorities are similar, said Franklin and Marshall College pollster G. Terry Madonna.
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"The economy right now is more important than terrorism and national security, but make no mistake about it, both are important," he said.
Still, he added, barring an unexpected event - like another terror attack - the economy "usually prevails."