President Donald Trump tweeted his support Thursday for Republican candidate Rick Saccone in his race against Democrat Conor Lamb in the Pennsylvania 18th Congressional District special election race. Trump will also be making a trip to the district Thursday afternoon to meet with Saccone and hold an event about manufacturing.
Saccone, a state representative, and Lamb, a former federal prosecutor, are running to replace Republican Tim Murphy, who resigned in October after it was revealed he had encouraged his lover to get an abortion, according to Politico. The election is the first Congressional race in 2018 in a year that Democrats hope to build on a wave of victories at the end of 2017 in Virginia, New Jersey and Alabama in an effort to take control of Congress.
Democrats will have a tough time taking the seat from Republicans. Trump topped Hillary Clinton in the 18th District by 19 points in 2016. Murphy ran unopposed in 2014 and 2016. But in voter registration, Democrats outnumber Republicans by about 70,000.
The first poll of the election was taken by Gravis Marketing in early January and released last week. The poll shows Saccone leading Lamb 46 percent to 34 percent, with 20 percent of voters undecided. The poll of registered voters has a margin of error of 4.3 percent.
The poll also found that 53 percent of respondents have a favorable view of Trump.
You can see the full poll results below:
Saccone, a 59-year-old Air Force veteran, has been a member of the House of Representatives in Pennsylvania since 2011.
“I was Trump before Trump was Trump,” Saccone told WESA radio in November. “I ran on that agenda in 2010. It’s the same agenda — it’s the people’s agenda. The president just nationalized it.”
Saccone told Real Clear Politics, “This is Trump country. I think he may be more popular now than he was when was elected. … People are calling and want to come see the president. They love him.”
Lamb, a 33-year-old lawyer, is a first time candidate. He was an assistant U.S. Attorney and a Marine captain, and comes from a prominent political family, according to NBC News.
He has had to work against Republican efforts to connect him to national Democrats, especially House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
“The people running in this race are me and Rick Saccone,” Lamb told the Washington Post. “I’ve been clear where I stand on the need for new leadership. He has not, except to say that he supports Paul Ryan, who supports coming after Social Security and Medicare. I think he’ll have a lot of explaining to do about that.”
Democratic strategist Mike Mikus, of Pittsburgh, told The Associated Press that Lamb will need to “run a perfect campaign” to win the seat, but said it can be done. Mikus told the AP that the number of registered Democrats in the district is representative of the labor’s influence in the area, but Mikus told the AP many of those union house “many of those union households embraced Trump’s populist, protectionist message in 2016,” and “noted they’re also culturally conservative.” Lamb has said he hopes to crack into those union voters, who supported Murphy, because Saccone has supported right to work measures.
While Lamb’s campaign has outraised Saccone, strategists say that the Republicans will likely pour money into the race.
“Even if Conor’s fundraising continues to be as strong as it has been, he’s not going to out-raise all of those entities collectively,” said Mike Butler, a Democratic strategist in the area, told Real Clear Politics. “If he doesn’t get his own outside help on the field, the Democrats could certainly let it slip through their fingers.”
Congressman Mike Doyle, a Pennsylvania Democrat, told Real Clear Politics, “This is going to be a very tough race, but the idea that in a district where the Republicans have never had to spend a penny in a decade or so you see all the effort going on right now makes it pretty clear what’s going on in that district. They’re seeing what we’re seeing, and we’re seeing a competitive race.”
Republican Congressman Mike Kelly told Real Clear Politics, “This seat is critical and we have to win and the president is that type of guy. He’s never taken anything for granted. He just doesn’t do it.”
Thursday’s visit to Pennsylvania is not a political stop for the president, according to the White House. Trump will be greeting Saccone at the airport upon landing in Pittsburgh and will then travel to an event at H&K Equipment Company in Coraopolis.
“While the president has made clear his support for Republican candidates throughout the country, including in Pennsylvania, the purpose of today’s visit is to promote the president’s successful agenda especially on taxes,” Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told The Associated Press.
The special election will be held March 13.