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Why the 'World Is Watching' One Pennsylvania District

Rick Saccone goes up against Conor Lamb in a special election in the 18th District
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 13, 2018 9:40 AM CDT

(Newser) – Taking southwestern Pennsylvania's 18th District was a cakewalk for Donald Trump: He snagged the district by 20 percentage points, reports CNBC. It was similarly a breeze for former GOP Rep. Tim Murphy, who won in 2014 and 2016 without even facing a Democratic challenger. But reports that Murphy urged his lover to abort her child brings us to where we are Tuesday: A special election is being held for his seat, and Republican state Rep. Rick Saccone, who faces Democrat Conor Lamb, is anything but a shoo-in. NPR reports that since Trump took office, 39 state legislative seats have turned blue. Will this be No. 40? Polls close at 8pm in the district, which encompasses many Pittsburgh suburbs; here's what you need to know:

  • Temporary: CNBC points out that the "practical effect on Congress" of the election "may be small." That's because it's temporary: Thanks to a new state congressional map, come November neither man will even live in the 18th: Lamb would be running in a new 17th District, Saccone in a redrawn 14th District. So it's more about bragging rights and momentum. And going into Tuesday, Lamb may have it, with a Monmouth University poll out Monday suggesting Lamb was ahead 51% to 45%, though that's based on a projected strong Democratic turnout.

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  • NPR's take: "The fact that Republicans are spending so heavily to save what's essentially a phantom district underscores what is on the line: They don't want a loss in such a GOP stronghold to spur even more panic among their ranks that Trump is dragging them down," Jessica Taylor writes.
  • About that heavy spending: Lamb has out-fundraised Saccone nearly 4-to-1, bringing in $3.6 million since January, while Saccone has managed just shy of $1 million. But Saccone has gotten a big helping hand from outside groups, which have ponied up $10.6 million in spending; Lamb has seen $1.7 million in spending from outside groups. ABC News notes Saccone got one last-minute bump from the NRA, which spent $7,868, mostly on pro-Saccone mailings that were to go out Monday. It's the only federal political spending the group has reported engaging in since the Parkland school shooting.
  • And about the heavy hitters: Both sides have gotten some high-profile help. The Hill reports Donald Trump Jr. was in the district Monday, following his father's Saturday rally in Pennsylvania. "The world is watching," Trump said in his appearance, per CNN. CNBC notes Joe Biden campaigned for Lamb last week, and CNN reports Mike Pence and Kellyanne Conway have shown up for Saccone, too.

  • So who is Lamb? Per NPR, even the GOP acknowledges he's a tight candidate: 33, regularly described as handsome, and a former Marine and prosecutor. It describes him as "cut[ting] a moderate profile with a populist tinge," coming out, for instance, against Nancy Pelosi and embracing an economic message akin to Trump's own. CNN adds that he has voiced personal opposition to abortion, fired a semiautomatic rifle in his first campaign ad, and been approving of Trump's new tariffs.
  • So who is Saccone? The 60-year-old is described by PennLive as a "staunch conservative" who's one of the state Legislature's biggest abortion opponents. He's a self-professed big fan of Trump's and, per Politico, a self-professed underdog. "I've always been the underdog in every race I've ever ran. This is my fifth election. So, I relish being the underdog. That's good."
  • A side note: Politico analyzed Saccone's last few weeks of campaign ads and discovered a distinct shift away from touting Trump's tax cuts: "It's a sign they think the issue isn't resonating—potentially a big problem in the midterms."
(Read more Pennsylvania stories.)

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