What to watch in Pennsylvania's special election

Democrat Conor Lamb, right, and Republican Rick Saccone speak before the taping of their first debate in the special election in the PA 18th Congressional District at the KDKA TV studios, Monday, Feb. 19, 2018, in Pittsburgh.

Murphy, a Republican, represented the state's 18th congressional district, which covers a corner of western Pennsylvania outside of Pittsburgh, from 2003 to 2017.

The seat is open after Murphy resigned amid the revelation that the strongly anti-abortion lawmaker had urged a woman with whom he was having an affair to get an abortion when they thought she might be pregnant.

Saccone, who was endorsed by and campaigned with President Donald Trump on Saturday, continued the campaign trail with Donald Trump Jr. on the eve of the election. Polls released last week show Mr Lamb has closed the gap on his Republican counterpart and at least two polls show him with a lead of three or more points. But it's hard to argue that special elections like the one going on in Pennsylvania are really good for the voters.

A Republican victory won't deliver instant relief to the party.

Trump Jr. said the administration needs support from Republicans like Saccone to keep at bay the Democrats, whom he called obstructionists and the "party of dependence".

Lamb's district, Pennsylvania's 18th, voted for Donald Trump by 20 percentage points more than Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.

Saccone and Trump Jr. chatted and took photos with employees on the tour, attended by dozens of local and national reporters covering the 18th District race, which has been cast as a bellwether for November midterms in which Democrats hope to win more seats in Congress. Outside of Pittsburgh, many of them are blue-collar workers nostalgic for the progressive labor-oriented politics of Roosevelt and Johnson. The 33-year-old Lamb pitches himself as an independent-minded Democrat who opposes sweeping gun restrictions, endorses Trump's new steel tariffs, and tells voters he won't back Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California for speaker.

TRUMP: We need our Congressman Saccone.

Feeling bullish after big wins in other special elections previous year and enjoying a groundswell of grassroots activism these days, Democrats are hoping a win in this ruby red district will not only make it easier for them to take back the House in November, but also send a message that their candidates can play in any part of the country. All of the things that they've been winning like tax reform, all of that can go away. But he reportedly trashed Saccone, a former Air Force veteran who serves in the Pennsylvania state house, as a "weak" candidate in private, according to Axios news.

The race is seen as a referendum on Trump and a harbinger for November's congressional midterm elections, according to pollsters and party insiders who say the moderate Democrat could emerge as a model for Democratic candidates in other competitive House districts that Trump carried in 2016.

The broader problem for Trump, of course, is that the tariff play has such a limited audience among voters that it doesn't even land in the place that he seems to envision as the most appreciative.

Recent polling has shown a tight race in the district, with a Gravis poll giving Saccone a 3-point edge while an Emerson poll had Lamb with a similar 3-point advantage.

Trump stumped alongside Saccone on Saturday, blasting "Lamb the sham" and pushing for support of Saccone because "the world is watching". "They know we are about the agenda that they voted in a year and half ago", Saccone said.

That's not a winning formula for a Democrat running in a deep-blue state like MA or California.

"I'm looking at a house across the street that had a Trump sign in 2016, and now it's got a Lamb sign", von Wertmann, a 50-year-old management consultant, said in a phone interview. Democrat Conor Lamb has proven to be a stellar candidate.

This triggered the special election. The victor on Tuesday will, if he jumps back in, be running for a different seat come November, perhaps in the state's newly drawn 14th or 17th districts.

Trump said, "We're like $100 billion down because of the stupid politicians doing stupid things". At a campaign rally with Trump over the weekend, he tried to rouse enough of them to win.

  • Leroy Wright