Lamb vs. Saccone: National attention on Pa's 18th District

Hillary Clinton didn't perform well in the 18th Congressional District of Pennsylvania but Democrats could have the last laugh in what is now a toss-up congressional race

Embarrassed Democrats quickly moved the goal posts, pivoting to today's special election in Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District. Republicans have a 24-seat advantage in the House pending the outcome in Pennsylvania. The president campaigned for Saccone, a state representative, Monday and Donald Trump Jr., remained at his side as he tried to close the deal with recent polls showing him trailing.

"Anyone who wants to know why this is a race should watch 30 seconds of Rick Saccone and 30 seconds of Conor Lamb", says Corry Bliss, who runs a Washington-based political action committee that's aligned with House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

"For so many of those voters in Pennsylvania, they were first-time voters [in 2016]", the operative told me. "They have a hatred for God".

Yet, win or lose, Tuesday's result represents massive progress for the Democratic Party.

"I just know that we have worked extremely hard".

Because of a long-running fight over Pennsylvania's congressional boundaries, the victor will have to start campaigning for re-election nearly immediately in a different district.

Murphy, a Republican, had held the seat for 15 years but state representative Rick Saccone, a conservative Air Force veteran who worked in counterintelligence, had difficulty overcoming Democratic enthusiasm and a centrist Democrat who had done almost everything right. The close race in Pennsylvania's 18th district could be a microcosm for this year's mid-term elections and the presidential election in 2020.

The final public poll, from Monmouth University, found Lamb ahead by two to six points depending on the depth of voter turnout. Rank-and-file workers helped Trump carry the district by 20 percentage points in 2016.

Trump Jr. dismissed a Monday story published by Axios that reported his father called Saccone weak. "Get out there and vote".

When you are running as a Democrat in Donald Trump country, the name Nancy Pelosi is even more toxic than the letters CNN.

Democrats and their water carriers in the mainstream media had the wind knocked out of their sails last week when the "blue wave" they were breathlessly forecasting didn't materialize in the first-in-the-nation Texas primaries on March 6.

Both candidates back Trump's new plan to impose steel and aluminum tariffs. "It's going to be a tight, tight race when you have two people running basically for the same party".

"He's a little more my style, a little more moderate", Konick, a 51-year-old Jefferson Hills resident, said of the Democratic candidate.

Lamb, whose strong fundraising let him to run only a few hundred fewer ads than Republicans, countered those attacks while counting on a massive coordinated campaign by labor unions - who have crossed with a Saccone on issues like right-to-work and pensions - to drive out votes. An energetic, 34-year-old US Navy veteran who, like Lamb, had served as a military lawyer, Reschenthaler also, unlike Lamb, has legislative experience as a state senator.

Lamb has raised more than four times the money that Saccone has, with about $3.8 million in direct contributions compared to the Republican's $900,000.

Republicans in the Trump era had found similar fault with other struggling candidates.

"What's really shitty is that I'm pretty political and well versed on special elections, and I forgot that it was happening at all", said Ali Akbar, a Republican political operative who moves among the Internet's pro-Trump crowd.

Trump won the Pittsburgh-area district handily in 2016, but Tuesday's race is said to be a toss-up.

The White House did much more for Saccone, sending in Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, and White House advisers Kellyanne Conway and Ivanka Trump.

For the weeks of February 4 and February 11, roughly two-thirds of the broadcast television ads from Saccone's campaign, the super PAC Congressional Leadership Fund and the National Republican Congressional Committee mentioned taxes, according to a POLITICO analysis of data from Advertising Analytics. "He's such a powerful person that commands the audience".

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