Democrat Conor Lamb, a veteran and prosecutor from a political family, is leading by a mere 641 votes in the closely-watched election to win a House seat in the Pennsylvania 18th Congressional District special election, which is being perceived as a bellwether of public opinion on President Donald Trump and the upcoming midterms in a district the president easily won. You can see a feed of election results below.
The moderate Lamb’s slim lead comes with all of the votes counted, except for some absentee and provisional ballots in GOP areas. Washington County was still counting its ballots early into March 14, and by morning, some networks but not all had declared Lamb the victor as his lead grew slightly by morning. The outstanding ballots were in GOP areas, but the practical matter is that Republican Rick Saccone would have to outperform his percentages in the non-absentee voting to win. The numbers don’t add up for him, but his campaign had not yet conceded.
However, the district boundaries were ordered redrawn, meaning the winner only serves until November, and Saccone is indicating he will run again for the new district seat.
The Democrats are hoping to flip the seat in the largely white, working-class district. In addition, the election is being watched as a predictor for the upcoming midterms. The Democrats control 193 seats in the U.S. House, and Republicans control 238. Lamb was looking to Allegheny County and its bulwark of Democratic support, but he also needed to earn votes in counties that tip toward the GOP, like Greene and Washington Counties. His conservative stances on some issues – he’s personally opposed to abortion, supports gun rights (although he called for considering stronger background checks), and distanced from Nancy Pelosi – gave Democrats hope that he might have district appeal. His first campaign ad showed him at a shooting range and declared that he “still loves to shoot.”
“We’re not giving up,” a tired looking Saccone told the crowd on election night just after 11:30 p.m. “I couldn’t ask for a better blessing than to have supporters like you…. We’re going to keep fighting… we’re going to win it.” He left the stage to Eminem’s “Not Afraid” song. In contrast, just before 1 a.m., Lamb struck a different tone, saying, “It took a little bit longer than we thought, but we did it…We followed what I learned in the Marines: Leave no one behind. We went everywhere, we talked to everyone, we invited everyone in. And we found that there is public support for programs like social security and Medicare that’s nearly universal.” Lamb told the crowd that “we fought to find common ground…mission accepted. People are so tired of the shouting on TV and in our politics.”
However, Saccone did not concede, and no one had called the race.
The margin is so close that it could lead to a recount either way (although Pennsylvania doesn’t have an automatic one in Congressional races). The Democrat led all night. At one point, with 100 percent in, he led by only 95 votes. However, absentee ballots from populous Allegheny County then boosted Lamb’s lead. According to Allegheny County’s election official, speaking on CNN, Lamb received 1,930 absentee votes to Saccone’s 1,178 in that county. Thus, by a 752-vote margin, the Democrat increased his lead in Allegheny County from the 95 votes to 847. Returns from Westmoreland County’s absentee ballot trove then whittled his lead down to 579.
The “enthusiasm factor” was being closely watched. Even if Saccone wins in a squeaker once the absentee ballots are all counted, Democrats will claim victory in a sense by keeping it close because Trump won the seat by 20 points and outside spending heavily favored the Republican. The bottom line for Democrats: They’re putting the GOP on defense in Republican turf by running a moderate, which gives Democrats a playbook to take into the midterms. Furthermore, it bodes poorly for Republicans in closer districts who don’t have the benefit of such a GOP leaning district, meaning the outcome could provoke some retirements.
The results are from Decision Desk HQ, which, according to its Twitter page, “provides fast & accurate election night results, in-depth data, and daily non-partisan election news and analysis.” According to CNN, there are also almost 7,000 absentee votes outstanding, and populous Allegheny County may have its ballots counted by midnight.
Conor Lamb, the 33-year-old Democrat seeking to win his first elective office in an area that usually goes Republican, comes from a family with a long tradition of service in the state’s politics. The Republican candidate in the race is Rick Saccone, 60, a state legislator who was a counter-intelligence officer for the U.S. Air Force. They are running for the seat vacated by scandal-scarred Republican incumbent Tim Murphy. Trump stumped for Saccone and touted him on Twitter.
“Rick is a great guy. We need more Republicans to continue our already successful agenda!” Trump tweeted. You can see live updates below and, under them, more background on each candidate.
Lamb outperformed Hillary Clinton’s 2016 totals in some strong GOP areas. Lamb led all night but his margin steadily shrank as analysts predicted a close race with turnout in rural Westmoreland County and in Washington County key, as well as parts of Allegheny County, which contributes 40 percent of the vote and contains the Pittsburgh suburbs.
Despite the Democratic hopes, the outside spending did not come in for Lamb. Lamb’s campaign “has raked in nearly $3.9 million to Saccone’s just over $916,000. But outside spending has more than made up for the Republican state lawmaker’s lack of support from individual contributors,” reported Open Secrets.org. The district boundaries were redrawn recently, and the victor only serves until November.
The site notes, “conservative outside spending groups have pumped about $10.6 million into bolstering Saccone, including almost $7.7 million spent attacking Lamb. By contrast, liberal outside spending groups have contributed less than $1.8 million in total.”
Saccone is a conservative Republican. He supported a “stand your ground” law on guns, “sponsored a bill that would require public school buildings to bear the motto ‘In God We Trust'” and advocated a “National Fast Day.” Drew Miller, the Libertarian in the race, may prove to be a spoiler.
UPDATE, 9:50 p.m.
The race is tightening. Lamb retains his lead but barely. Don’t forget: There are also absentee ballots.
UPDATE, 9:41 p.m.
More of Westmoreland County is in, and it’s good news still for Lamb – but barely.
However, there is still hope for Saccone.
UPDATE, 9:21 p.m.
The New York Times is giving Lamb a slight edge to win.
UPDATE, 9:03 p.m.
Saccone is leading in critical Westmoreland County, which has one-third of the voters, but he is underperforming Trump. If Saccone loses the race, will people say he is a “bad candidate” like they did with Moore? Nate Silver says that’s a simplistic reaction. Saccone has an impressive resume and was not hobbled by scandal like Moore.
UPDATE, 9:01 p.m.
CNN says the benchmark to watch is this: Lamb needs to maintain 55 percent or above in the portion of the district that is located in Allegheny County. But Westmoreland County has 34 percent of the voters in the district and no tallies were in yet.
UPDATE, 8:35 p.m.
Lamb is now ahead 52 to 47.3%. However, it’s too early to make much of it. The first election results flipped from a Lamb lead to Saccone and back to Lamb.
UPDATE, 8:31 p.m.
According to Decision Desk HQ, the “first few hundred votes are in from Allegheny County in PA-18.” Lamb is ahead in the first results 52% to 47.2%. However, only one precinct is in.
UPDATE, 8 p.m.
Some people manning the polls said there was good turnout. “We’ve gotten a lot of voters today, and we’re really surprised,” said Judi Kemis to Daily Item.com. She is a judge of elections for polling at South Central Elementary School in Canonsburg. “We’ve had a lot of young people, fresh 18-year-old voters.”
Here’s a photo of Saccone at the polls on election day.
The race is being closely watched because Pennsylvania was one of the surprise upsets that gave Trump the White House. The district that Lamb is running in went to Trump by more than 20 points, but polls have shown a much closer race for the House. A new Monmouth University Poll released a day before voters cast their ballots showed Lamb leading Saccone. Donald Trump Jr. also touted Saccone on the campaign trail and social media.
The district is located in Western Pennsylvania and includes parts of Allegheny, Greene, Washington and Westmoreland counties. The men are vying to replace Republican Rep. Tim Murphy, who resigned amidst a sex scandal. Murphy ran uncontested in 2016 and 2014 and defeated his Democratic challenger by a 64 to 36 margin in 2012.
Both candidates are veterans. Lamb is a former assistant U.S. attorney who served as a captain in the Marine Corps. He is only 33-years-old, and he is perceived as a moderate.
Saccone was a “counter-intelligence officer for the U.S. Air Force, defending against commandos and espionage from North Korea. Rick was on the counter-terror task forces for two Olympic Games: 1984 in Los Angeles and 1988 in Seoul, South Korea,” his website bio reports. Rick Saccone has served in the Pennsylvania state legislature since 2010.
According to The Independent, Saccone “served as a diplomat to North Korea from 2000 to 2001 during the administration of President George W Bush and was the only US citizen living in Pyongyang at the time.” He also served as a professor.
Lamb went on to become a prosecutor in the Marines where he “took on cover-ups of sexual assault in the Corps, both on Okinawa and at the Naval Academy,” according to Payday Report. His moderate views make him a threat to Republicans in the House race. According to Politico, Conor Lamb is a devout Catholic who is “pro-union and pro-gun, backs bipartisan deals for fixing Obamacare and the nation’s infrastructure, wants more job training and less college debt, and says he’s pro-fracking but pro-environment, too.”