Democrat Conor Lamb declared victory in the very close special Congressional election in Pennsylvania. Republican Rick Saccone is not giving up. AP has not called the race and some absentee ballots are still being counted. (March 14)

With hundreds of absentee ballots to be counted, Democrat Conor Lamb held a razor-thin lead against Republican Rick Saccone early Wednesday in a special election race in a Congressional district that went heavily for President Trump in the general election.

After midnight with all precincts reporting, unofficial results had Lamb leading Saccone, a Republican state representative, by fewer than 600 votes in the race for the 18th Congressional District seat in Pennsylvania.

With the outcome of the race still officially in doubt, Lamb claimed victory during the night in a race with implications for November midterm elections.

Lamb, a 33-year-old Marine veteran and former federal prosecutor, told an exuberant crowd of supporters that voters had directed him to “do your job” in Washington. “Mission accepted,” he declared.

In an interview with MSNBC Wednesday morning, Lamb credited “just good old fashioned hard work” for his claimed victory.

Earlier, Saccone told his own supporters, “It’s not over yet, we’re going to fight all the way, all the way to the end, we’ll never give up.”

In a race this close, either candidate’s supporters can ask for a recount. However there are stiff requirements, including requiring three voters in the same precinct who can attest that error or fraud was committed.

The outcome will have national implications, even if court-ordered redistricting means the seat won’t exist by the time the winner runs for re-election in November.
Democrats have said a win in this district — or even a narrow loss — means they can compete anywhere by capitalizing on Trump’s unpopularity and high levels of anti-Trump enthusiasm.

Democrats must flip 24 GOP-held seats this fall to seize control of the House, and months ago few had counted on the district to be in play. The seat has been in Republican hands for the past 15 years.

The Pennsylvania seat was open because longtime Republican congressman Tim Murphy, who espoused strong anti-abortion views, resigned last fall amid revelations of an extramarital affair in which he urged his mistress to get an abortion.

“These results should terrify Republicans,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., said. “There are more than one hundred districts more favorable for Democrats than this one and we look forward to competing hard in every single one.”

But the candidates themselves created a race that may not be easily duplicated around the country. Lamb pitched himself as an average guy from the mostly white, working class district. Frequently clad in jeans and beat-up work boots at campaign events, he talked about the economy and jobs, focusing his outreach on veterans and union members.

He supported gun rights and opposed abortion, called for new leadership in his own party in Washington and avoided criticizing the president — whose popularity is 10 points higher in the district than it is nationally, according to Monmouth University polls out this month.

Lamb, who avoided Trump-bashing, told MSNBC that during the campaign, he kept hearing the same “work with the  other side, do what you say you are going to do.”

“They don’t want us to shut down the government, or posture or bicker, but to figure things out.” he said.

Saccone, a 60-year-old Air Force veteran turned state lawmaker and college instructor, enjoyed enthusiastic backing from the social conservatives who’ve anchored his state career. He’s been perhaps at his most animated when emphasizing his opposition to abortion rights.

Yet Saccone struggled to raise money and stir the same passions that helped Trump on his way to the White House. The consistent fundraising deficit left him with limited resources to air the message he delivered one-on-one: His four decades of experience in the private sector, international business and now the Legislature should make voters’ choice a no-brainer.

While even slim a Democratic win in a bright red district would rattle Republican contenders in other close districts heading into the fall, a win or close loss for Lamb would also raise questions about the coattails of Trump, who visited the district last week for a rousing rally aimed at boosting Saccone.

Trump had urged voters not to “be conned by this guy Lamb.” Asked about Trump’s remarks, Lamb said, “There was a lot of foolishness in this election and a lot of really cartoonish campaigning, and I think by the time of the president’s visit … there was just a little bit of burnout on that type of campaigning.”

But Lamb says there are still “plenty of people here who are still pretty supportive” of Trump.

In many ways the race for this seat is as much about bragging rights as raw political power since ultimate winner will face re-election in just eight months. In addition, the district, as currently drawn, will disappear next year thanks to a court-ordered redrawing of the state’s district maps.

The race, in the end, was also a test of the parties ability to appeal to white, working-class voters.

More: Pennsylvania election will be seen as a bellwether for November

More: Pennsylvania special election between Rick Saccone and Conor Lamb too close to call

The White House scrambled to rally voters behind Saccone, who cast himself as the president’s “wingman,” but he struggled at times to connect with the blue-collar coalition that fueled Trump’s victory little more than a year ago.

Lamb asserted his independence from the Democratic Party, courted labor backing and focused on local issues. He studiously downplayed his opposition to the Republican president in the district where Trump’s support has slipped by not plummeted.

“This didn’t have much to do with President Trump,” Lamb said Tuesday after casting his vote in suburban Pittsburgh.

The president has campaigned in the district twice and sent several tweets on Saccone’s behalf. Other recent visitors include the vice president, the president’s eldest son, the president’s daughter and the president’s chief counselor. Outside groups aligned with Republicans poured more than $10 million of dollars into the contest.

Lamb embraced Democratic orthodoxy on the new GOP tax law, hammering it as a giveaway to corporations at the future expense of Social Security, Medicare and the nation’s fiscal security. And he embraces unions, highlighting Saccone’s anti-labor record at the statehouse, which was a notable deviation from the retiring Murphy’s status as a union-friendly Republican.

The AFL-CIO counts 87,000 voters from union households – around a fifth of the electorate.

Read or Share this story: