Penn­syl­va­nia race is too close to call

Con­test riv­ets na­tion’s at­ten­tion as bell­wether for the fall midterms

The Dallas Morning News - - Nation & World - The Wash­ing­ton Post, The New York Times

MOUNT LEBANON, Pa. — A spe­cial elec­tion for a U.S. House seat was too close to call late Tues­day as Demo­crat Conor Lamb and Repub­li­can Rick Sac­cone were sep­a­rated by sev­eral hun­dred votes in a race that had be­come a test of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s po­lit­i­cal clout.

With 100 per­cent of precincts re­port­ing, Lamb was cling­ing to a 579-vote lead over Sac­cone. But a few thou­sand ab­sen­tee bal­lots had not yet been counted, sug­gest­ing that no win­ner would be de­clared un­til Wed­nes­day at the ear­li­est. And it was pos­si­ble that a le­gal bat­tle could en­sue. A re­count is pos­si­ble if the can­di­dates are sep­a­rated by 0.5 per­cent­age points or less.

Lamb, 33, had waged an en­er­getic cam­paign in the district that Trump car­ried by nearly 20 points in 2016 but that opened up af­ter the Repub­li­can in­cum­bent was felled by scan­dal. Repub­li­cans cited that scan­dal, along with the lack­lus­ter cam­paign of their nom­i­nee, Rick Sac­cone, to min­i­mize the close­ness of the race. The district it­self will dis­ap­pear this year, thanks to a court de­ci­sion that struck down a Repub­li­can-drawn map.

But led by the White House, Repub­li­cans had el­e­vated the race to a high-stakes ref­er­en­dum on the pres­i­dent and the GOP. Trump made two ap­pear­ances with Sac­cone, in­clud­ing a Satur­day night rally in the district, and his son Don­ald Trump Jr. stumped with the Repub­li­can on Mon­day. The pres­i­dent re­peat­edly linked his brand to Sac­cone.

“The Econ­omy is rag­ing, at an all time high, and is set to get even bet­ter,” the pres­i­dent tweeted on Tues­day morn­ing. “Jobs and wages up. Vote for Rick Sac­cone and keep it go­ing!”

Repub­li­can cam­paign com­mit­tees and su­per PACS spent $10.7 mil­lion to help Sac­cone, more than five times as much as their Demo­cratic ri­vals, ac­cord­ing to Fed­eral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion records filed Mon­day night.

Thanks to the court’s scram­bling of the con­gres­sional map, both Lamb and Sac­cone may well be­come can­di­dates in new districts be­fore a win­ner is de­clared in the 18th Con­gres­sional District. Can­di­dates must col­lect and file 1,000 sig­na­tures for those races by March 20 — the day that some over­seas bal­lots in Tues­day’s race will be counted.

The district, a stretch of sub­urbs and small towns that was drawn to elect a Repub­li­can, was not the sort of place that Democrats had been ex­pected to make com­pet­i­tive this year. Lamb’s coali­tion pulled to­gether sub­ur­ban lib­er­als, way­ward Repub­li­cans and tra­di­tional Democrats who had drifted from the party on cul­tural is­sues.

Repub­li­cans who hoped to fight the Penn­syl­va­nia race on the grow­ing econ­omy, and on the pres­i­dent’s new tar­iffs on for­eign steel and alu­minum, found the White House fre­quently alien­at­ing some of the vot­ers they needed.

As vot­ers made their de­ci­sions Tues­day, Trump loomed large in the minds of many.

Amelia Fletcher, from Moon Town­ship, cast her first-ever bal­lot for Sac­cone be­cause she likes Trump’s agenda and be­lieves he will sup­port it.

“I re­ally don’t ap­pre­ci­ate how he talks, but I like what he’s do­ing now to help us out,” the 18-year-old high school se­nior said of Trump.

Janet Del­lana, 64, a Repub­li­can, said that “national pol­i­tics” had al­ready been mov­ing her to­ward the Democrats.

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