Saccone v. Lamb: Pennsylvania Special Election Race Down to Wire in Last 24 Hours Before Votes

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

The special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District between Republican Rick Saccone and Democrat Conor Lamb is still too close to call less than 24 hours before the polls open on Tuesday.

Though President Trump won this suburban Pittsburgh district by 19 points in 2016, both of the most recent polls show the race tied, with results within the margin of error.

A Gravis Marketing poll conducted between March 1 and March 5 shows Saccone with a three-point lead over Lamb, 45 percent to 42 percent, with 13 percent undecided. The poll has a margin of error of 3.3 percent.

An Emerson College poll conducted between March 1 and March 3 shows Lamb with a three-point lead over Saccone, 48 percent to 45 percent, with 7 percent undecided. This poll has a margin of error of 4.8 percent.

In the week since these two polls were conducted, three events have occurred that are likely to move the needle towards Republican Saccone.

First, President Trump announced steel tariffs in a district where a number of voters work in the steel industry. Second, President Trump announced the favorably received diplomatic news that he will meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un before May. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, President Trump held a raucous rally in the district on Saturday, during which he went all in for Saccone.

Both sides are pouring huge financial resources into the race.

As of February 21, Democrat Conor Lamb has raised more than $3.8 million, according to Federal Election Commission records, much of it from outside the district. Half of the contributions — $1.9 million — are unitemized, meaning they are small donations below $200–resulting from the national fundraising efforts of ActBlue, the prolific far-left fundraising operation based in Boston, Massachusetts.

In contrast, as of February 21, Saccone has raised only $917,000 — only $116,000 of which came in the form of unitemized contributions from small donors.

Both parties and other outside groups have joined in as well, with millions coming from both the Democrats and the Republicans.

More than $10 million will be spent on the race.

Lamb has been careful to avoid directly attacking President Trump, who remains popular in the district, but Trump did not return the favor in the rally Saturday, choosing to tie the Democrat candidate to the unpopular Democrat Party leader Nancy Pelosi, who would become speaker of the house if the Democrats regain the majority in the November midterm elections.

Lamb has said he will not vote for Pelosi as party leader if elected, but at Saturday’s rally, Trump called that a promise from “Lamb, the sham.”

In the end, the race will likely be determined by whether the local enthusiasm of Democrats is outweighed by President Trump’s popularity.

“If Republican congressional candidate Rick Saccone wins an unexpectedly close special election here next Tuesday, it will be on Donald Trump’s coattails,” the Washington Post reported on Friday.

“It’s voter excitement that might put Lamb over the top. When asked about level of excitement among voters about the election, 63% of Lamb voters reported being very excited compared to 53% of Saccone voters,” the Emerson College poll reported, adding, “Lamb voters also are paying more attention to the race, with 47% reported paying a lot of attention, compared to 42% of Saccone voters”:

Lamb has a positive image in the district, with 48% saying they have a favorable opinion and a 33% unfavorable rating – 15% of voters had heard of him but had no opinion. Saccone is not as popular with a 44% favorable and a 40% unfavorable rating – 15% of voters had heard of him but had no opinion.

Lamb leads 57% to 40% in Allegheny County, which is expected to account for about 42% of the vote. Saccone leads in Westmoreland County 51% to 42%, a county that comprises about
33% of the vote. Saccone leads in Washington County 46% to 41%, which make up about 22% of the vote.

Trump won the district 58% to 39% in 2016, and Mitt Romney fared equally well in 2012 with 58% of the vote to 41% for President Obama. Trump currently has a 47% job approval in the district with 43% disapproving, despite 46% of the district being registered Democrat. Similarly, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi only has a 20% approval rate, with 57% disapproving.

If Lamb wins, the magic number that Democrats need to take back the House in the fall will drop from 24 to 23.

If Saccone wins, his re-election in the fall will not necessarily be any easier, since a recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision means the district in which he runs in November will be less Republican than the district as it is currently drawn.

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