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Pennsylvania's Senate Race Comes Down To Women In Philadelphia Suburbs


Women often play deciding roles in elections, and this year, there may be no better example of their influence than in Pennsylvania. Hillary Clinton is leading Donald Trump with big leads from women in Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs.

But down the ballot, Republican Senator Pat Toomey and his Democratic opponent, Katie McGinty, are battling it out for the female vote. NPR congressional reporter Susan Davis hit the road this week to find out what's on the minds of women there.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: It's story time at the Western Learning Center, in early childhood program on South Street here in Philadelphia. The guest reader is Democratic Senate candidate Katie McGinty. Her selection...

KATIE MCGINTY: "King Bidgood's In the Bathtub" - woo-hoo (ph).

DAVIS: It's about a king who doesn't want to get out of the tub. He eventually does, but that's when things go a little sideways at this campaign stop full of toddlers.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: Now he's naked.


MCGINTY: For the record, reporters, there is a towel around the king.


MCGINTY: I checked.


DAVIS: Afterward, McGinty met downstairs with some of the kids' moms. It's clear economic security is at the front of their minds, like LaToya Brewington, a married mother of two.

LATOYA BREWINGTON: I cried so many nights not knowing how I'm going to pay for this, how I'm going to pay for that. And I have a decent job.

MCGINTY: Yeah, right.

BREWINGTON: I make over $25 an hour...


BREWINGTON: ...And still can't afford it. I can't get childcare assistance because I make that much.


BREWINGTON: It's like either you have nothing and you get it all, and if you have a little bit of something, you get nothing.

DAVIS: That's why McGuinty is campaigning this week on her support for childcare tax credits and paid family leave. She needs to maximize turnout in Philadelphia for women like Sareeta Hoffman. She had never heard of McGuinty before this event. She tells me afterward that McGinty's support of a $15 minimum wage won her over.

SAREETA HOFFMAN: Most likely my vote will be for her because my children are my everything. And I like the fact that she's a parent, too, so she can relate as well.

DAVIS: Republican Senator Pat Toomey is also campaigning on security but through a different lens. Here's a campaign ad a gun control group is running in his favor.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: My mom was the principal at Sandy Hook School in Newtown. She died that day protecting the young children in her care. When it came time to vote on background checks, Pat Toomey crossed party lines to do the right thing.

DAVIS: Toomey's support of enhanced background checks for gun sales failed in the Senate, but it's one of the issues that is keeping this race close. It's earned Toomey the recent endorsement of two gun control groups run by people who could influence swing voters - former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

Outside the Outside the Dilworthtown Inn in Westchester, I meet Michelle Kichline. She's a county Republican official here in this mostly upper-middle-class town. She says those endorsements help Toomey appeal to women in the suburbs.

MICHELLE KICHLINE: He is very rational. He's very focused. I've seen him, you know, reach across party lines on a number of issues that I think affect not only all our residents but also particularly women and children. And that's important to me as a mother.

DAVIS: Women voters in Philadelphia's four suburban counties are the decisive swing vote. They're often referred to as security moms. Carol Aichele is one of those moms. She's a retired local elected official who now works nearby at Westchester University. She also attended the Toomey fundraiser.

CAROL AICHELE: And I think Senator Toomey's position with respect to keeping America safe is important. I can't think of any issue that's more important.

DAVIS: Aichele, though, is undecided about Trump, and the polls show Trump is doing terribly among suburban women here. She worries Trump could be a drag down the ballot.

AICHELE: We always worry about that. You never can tell whether there's going to be down ticket or not. So it is what it is.


DAVIS: The Trump campaign hasn't given up on suburban women. Vice presidential nominee Mike Pence campaigned Tuesday across the Philadelphia suburbs.


MIKE PENCE: When Donald Trump and I take office, we're going to work with members of Congress from here in Pennsylvania like your great Senator Pat Toomey, who has got to go back to Washington, D.C.

DAVIS: Toomey has not endorsed Trump, and Toomey did not attend that rally. If Clinton stays on track to win Pennsylvania, he needs distance from Trump to win re-election, and that means convincing Clinton's suburban women supporters to choose him over McGuinty. And that support will go to the Senate candidate that makes women here feel secure. Susan Davis, NPR News, Pennsylvania. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.