Republican Rick Saccone says he's not surprised he's in a close race with Democrat Conor Lamb in a southwest Pennsylvania congressional district that President Donald Trump won by 20 percentage points in 2016.
Saccone told Maria Bartiromo of Fox Business Network in an Election Day interview that Trump is "getting beat up in Washington" by the media, bureaucrats and Hollywood. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled the current congressional map unconstitutional and created a new one after the governor and Legislature failed to agree on how to change it.
One potential explanation for the lack of enthusiasm could be Lamb's outspoken criticism of Democrats' congressional leadership, specifically his non-endorsement of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
The Pennsylvania contest is largely symbolic since the district (which Trump carried by almost 20% points in 2016) will disappear into the mists like Brigadoon when a new statewide redistricting plan takes effect.
"I'm a Republican and I think President Trump needs more Republicans that back his plans for the country", Brett Gelb said. Lamb told the Weekly Standard he doesn't support a ban on abortion at 20 weeks. "So when some so-called news organizations says they've got an anonymous source that says Republicans are throwing me under the bus, I say that's unfair journalism and fake news".
Trump won the Pittsburgh-area district handily in 2016, but Tuesday's race is said to be a toss-up.
But even conventional Democratic Party groups showed Lamb less support than conventional Republican groups did their candidate.
Democrat Conor Lamb, a 33-year old Marine veteran and former federal prosecutor, downplayed his opposition to the Republican president on Tuesday and insisted instead that the race hinged on local issues. "I won this district by 22 points". But it also would add to four close-but-no-cigar upset bids in special House elections previous year. Trump's announcement that he would impose tariffs on imported steel seemed timed to propel Saccone forward. Replacing Pelosi with a little-known Democrat (regardless of gender or race) would deprive the Republicans of an easy target in campaign ads. On Monday, Donald Trump Jr. told me that this election was NOT a referendum on his father's performance in the White House.
Several members of the Trump administration and family have campaigned on behalf of Saccone.
Nation-wide focus on the district began with Rep. Tim Murphy's (R-Upper St. Clair) resignation after the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that he asked a woman he was having an affair with to get an abortion, despite his anti-abortion policies.
Registered Republican Brett Gelb voted for Saccone, largely because the Republican candidate promised to support the president. He resigned last fall. Saccone is a former counter-intelligence officer in the Air Force, has a doctorate and was a professor at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, teaching political science and other courses, and still teaches there part-time. He also ran firmly opposed to Nancy Pelosi being the Democratic leader.
Polls in the district are open from 7 a.m.to 8 p.m. EDT.
What could be even more troubling for Republicans is that according to 538, there has been a 29 percent swing toward Democrats in special state representative elections in Pennsylvania since Trump became president.
Although redistricting in Pennsylvania means it's likely neither Lamb nor Saccone will run again in the 18th District by the time the midterms roll around, the special election is a momentous battle in the war to control narratives ahead of November, and Republicans outside spenders have simply invested more in the race.
Even if Saccone, a state legislator, prevails, it would demonstrate that Democrats are competitive in places they hadn't been before and force the GOP to spend time and money defending what had been safe Congressional seats as they try to hold on to their House majority in November.
The victor replaces Republican Tim Murphy, who resigned in October amid a sex scandal.