Special Congressional Election in Pennsylvania Is Heating Up

rick-saccone-conor-lamb Pennsylvania special election candidates opponents
Jeff SwensenGetty Images/Conor Lamb for Congress

The special election to replace former Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA) in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District is heating up, and money is playing a very big role.

Murphy resigned in October “amidst a scandal in which he allegedly encouraged his mistress to obtain an abortion,” Breitbart News reported.

The former Congressman had not been in a contested general election since 2012, when he was easily re-elected with 64 percent of the vote. Donald Trump carried the Western Pennsylvania district by 20 points in 2016.

A Democratic victory in this special election would lower the number of House seats the Democrats need to take from Republicans in the fall midterm elections to gain a majority in the House from 24 to 23.

Conor Lamb, the Democratic nominee, is a former assistant U.S. attorney and Rick Saccone, the Republican nominee, is a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and former political science professor at St. Vincent College.

The Monmouth University Polling Institute said in a statement released on Thursday:

Republican Rick Saccone has a small advantage in the special election for Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District, even when the potential for a Democratic surge is taken into account. However, the Monmouth University Poll finds that a partisan gap in enthusiasm around President Donald Trump has helped Democrat Conor Lamb stay within striking distance.

Saccone holds a 49% to 46% edge over Democrat Conor Lamb in the race to fill the open House seat on March 13, using a turnout model similar to voting patterns seen in other special elections over the past year. Another 1% opt for a third party candidate and 4% are undecided. A historical turnout model, based on lower turnout than the 2014 midterm, gives Saccone a larger 50% to 45% lead. A model with higher turnout overall, similar to a presidential electorate, gives Saccone a 48% to 44% advantage. It is worth noting that all of these leads are within the poll’s margin of error for each model.

“Saccone has a slight edge, but it’s nowhere near the double digit advantage Republicans typically enjoy in this district. The potential for a Democratic surge like we have seen in other special elections helps Lamb stay in the hunt but it does not close the gap entirely,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute. Monmouth used a similar multi-model approach in polling December’s special election for U.S. Senate in Alabama. That poll found a much wider seven point swing between the low and high turnout models for that race:

The key difference between Monmouth’s Democratic “surge” model and the standard low turnout model in PA18 is an increase in the districtwide vote share coming from historically Democratic-leaning and competitive precincts. Most of these precincts are located in Allegheny County with some in neighboring Washington County. These precincts typically make up about 19% of PA18’s electorate in any given election. The surge adjustment increases that share to 23%.

“The Monmouth University Poll was conducted by telephone from February 12 to 14, 2018 with 320 Pennsylvania residents likely to vote in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District special election next month. The results in this release have a margin of error of +/- 5.5 percent,” the Monmouth University Polling Institute said in the statement.

As Breitbart News reported in December, “Of the three polls released on the Alabama U.S. Senate special election on Monday, the day before voters cast their ballots, only the Monmouth Poll, which said the race was tied, 46 percent for Republican Roy Moore and 46 percent for Democrat Doug Jones, with a 4.2 percent margin of error, got it right.”

With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Jones won by a margin of 1.5 points, receiving 49.9 percent of the vote, while Moore received 48.4 percent of the vote, with write-in candidate Lee Busby receiving 1.7 percent.

One bright note for Republicans trying to read the tea leaves in this important special election is that the 5.5 percent margin of error in the Monmouth Poll is higher than the margin of error seen in most recent political polls, which typically ranges from 3.0 percent to 4.0 percent.

The Real Clear Politics Average of Polls lists only one other poll on the race, a Gravis Marketing poll conducted in January which showed Saccone with a 12 point lead, 46 percent to 34 percent. The Gravis Marketing poll had a 4.3 percent margin of error.

In addition, the most recent Morning Consult Poll on the Congressional generic ballot shows that the 13 point Democratic advantage from just a few months ago has now evaporated. Republicans now have a one point advantage in the Congressional generic ballot, according to the Morning Consult Poll.

“President Trump will travel to Pennsylvania next week for a rally ahead of the state’s special House election, his campaign confirmed on Monday,” the Hill reported on Monday, adding:

Last month, Trump traveled to Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District for an event billed as an official White House event, but said that he’d hold a campaign rally to boost Saccone. This upcoming trip to Ambridge will be right outside the 18th District.

Without mentioning Saccone by name, Trump’s campaign said that the rally will be an opportunity for the president to tout the economy and the GOP’s tax overhaul.

As of the most recent financial reports filed with the Federal Election Commission on December 31, Lamb has outraised Saccone by a $560,000 to $214,000 margin.

But Republicans are providing financial support to Saccone through party organizations.

“The House Republican campaign arm has begun a $2 million TV offensive and is aggressively pressing party lawmakers to help fund the candidate. Bliss’ group, Congressional Leadership Fund, is deploying dozens of field staffers, who braved frigid winds last weekend as they canvassed for votes,” Politico reported earlier this month.

And last week, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) launched a 30 second television spot on Tuesday blasting Lamb for opposing middle class tax cuts and standing with House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), as Breitbart News reported.

Democrats, however, are confident that the money will continue to roll in for Lamb.

“When you look at how Conor Lamb has been able to stay up on the air and match the Republican onslaught, it’s because he’s had the resources to do that,” Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told Politico on Thursday.

As has been the case in most recent special elections, the winning candidate will likely be the one who is best able to turn out his party’s base.

“The fact that Saccone does better among all potential voters than he does in any of the probable turnout models is a clear sign of higher enthusiasm among Democrats. However, this district’s strong Republican bent may simply be too high a hurdle for Lamb to overcome,” Monmouth University Polling Institute director Murray said.

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