Pennsylvania election to be a test of pre-midterm Democratic appeal

Nellie Chapman
March 13, 2018

In this February 8, 2018, photo, State Representative Rick Saccone, the Republican candidate for the March 13 special election in Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District, talks about his campaign at his headquarters in Canonsburg.

The closely watched congressional race in Pennsylvania between Republican Rick Saccone and Democrat Conor Lamb is so tight because it is in a "Democrat district", Val DiGiorgio, the chairman of the state's Republican Party, told Fox News on Monday.

Donald Trump won the district by a margin of nearly 20 points in the presidential election and has campaigned enthusiastically for Mr Saccone.

Republicans are preemptively trashing Saccone, the GOP nominee, in an effort to blame any possible loss on the candidate versus the party itself, especially in light of Trump's poor approval ratings.

He said too many Democratic candidates run to represent the people in their district but often simply "fall in line with [House Minority Leader] Nancy Pelosi".

But the dynamics have changed in the district, which runs from wealthy suburbs south of Pittsburgh through hardscrabble steel and coal mining towns to farmlands along the West Virginia border. If that messaging doesn't work in a seat Trump won by almost 20 points, that's bad news for Republicans in other, more competitive seats in the fall.

The White House has arranged a string of visits to energize Saccone's base.

In addition to the last-minute mailers, Saccone on Monday brought in Donald Trump Jr.to campaign for him. One reporter asked whether Trump had met with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, and whether Stormy Daniels, the porn star who has claimed an extramarital affair with the president, should be allowed to speak out.

Now, polls suggest Lamb well-positioned for an upset, despite Saccone's urging to a GOP-leaning electorate that their choice is about "making America great again", just as the president says. Saccone is struggling in a district he should win easily.

Trump said, "We're like $100 billion down because of the stupid politicians doing stupid things".

Lamb raised much more money than his Republican counterpart in the Pennsylvania race.

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Republican congressional candidate Rick Saccone meets with supporters at the VFW Post 4793 while campaigning on March 5, 2018 in Waynesburg, Pa. Saccone is running for the vacated seat of Congressman Tim Murphy against Conor Lamb.

"They say the other side is energized", Saccone reportedly said.

He blasts the new Republican tax law as a gift to the wealthy and a threat to Social Security and Medicare.

He also continued his attacks against the news media, which appeared popular with the crowd, and lambasted Democrats such as Rep. Maxine Waters of California. Former Vice President Joe Biden recently campaigned with Lamb. Lamb's campaign released a television ad March 8 endorsing background checks.

He does have a conservative voting record from the decade he's spent in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, which theoretically should be a positive in a strong Republican strongold like this one. "I do not believe, as (Republican House Speaker) Paul Ryan does, that these are entitlements or another form of welfare".

Democrats need to pick up 24 seats to gain House control in November.

The group confirmed the existence of the mailer to ABC News but declined to describe it or where it was sent in the 18th Congressional District.

Tuesday's election has little bearing on the current balance of power in the House.

Saccone has come out in favor of the tariffs, which are largely opposed by Republicans in Washington.

While the telegenic young Lamb has impressed even Republicans with his disciplined campaign, and calculated splits with the national Democratic Party, Republicans have blasted Saccone for weak fundraising, an inability to tell his own story as a veteran, his deep hostility to unions in a union-heavy district, and past mistakes like telling a mother whose kid had died of opioid abuse that addiction was a "family responsibility" and it's not taxpayers' responsibility to help, a brutal remark in a district where opioids are a serious problem.

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