All eyes on Pa. for ref­er­en­dum on pres­i­dency

The Times Herald (Norristown, PA) - - OPINION -

The eyes of the na­tion were riv­eted on Penn­syl­va­nia Tues­day.

And it had noth­ing to do with the Ea­gles. Or the “Philly Spe­cial.” This one was the “Pa. Spe­cial,” a spe­cial elec­tion for the U.S. Congress. It was big news. Right up un­til the time Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump de­cided to fire Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son.

Maybe that’s what the pres­i­dent had in mind. Maybe he wanted to shift at­ten­tion off what ap­pears to be a fail­ing ef­fort to prop up the strug­gling cam­paign of Repub­li­can Rick Sac­cone.

Sac­cone, a for­mer state rep­re­sen­ta­tive and Air Force vet­eran, found him­self trail­ing Conor Lamb, a Marine and for­mer fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor, in the hours lead­ing up to the elec­tion.

This is stun­ning in light of the fact that this is a dis­trict Trump won by 20 points in 2016.

Specif­i­cally the na­tional fo­cus was on a slice of the south­west­ern part of the state near Pitts­burgh. Trump coun­try. Where the pres­i­dent’s mes­sage con­nected with hordes of dis­af­fected mid­dle-class, white vot­ers in the shad­ows of closed steel mills and coal plants, who be­lieved that their voices no longer were heard – or much mat­tered – in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

It’s the home of the 18th Con­gres­sional Dis­trict, which held a spe­cial elec­tion Tues­day to send a new rep­re­sen­ta­tive to Wash­ing­ton. That’s be­cause their for­mer rep­re­sen­ta­tive, long­time in­cum­bent Repub­li­can Rep. Tim Mur­phy, a staunch abor­tion foe, bowed out af­ter he was caught en­cour­ag­ing the woman he was hav­ing an af­fair with to have an abor­tion.

Of course vot­ers were not sim­ply elect­ing a new con­gress­man, they were also tak­ing part in a ref­er­en­dum on the pres­i­dency of Don­ald Trump.

Repub­li­cans pulled out all the stops try­ing to lift the sag­ging Sac­cone cam­paign to vic­tory over the Demo­crat chal­lenger Lamb.

The race was trum­peted by hope­ful Dems as the first rip­ple in what they hope will be a Demo­cratic ti­dal wave in the 2018 mid-terms.

Don­ald Trump Jr. spent the day in the dis­trict Mon­day. He said Sac­cone would help his fa­ther’s fight to bring jobs back to the U.S. from over­seas.

There are some peo­ple who be­lieve the 18th race may have been a fac­tor in Trump’s push to an­nounce new tar­iffs on im­ported steel.

The pres­i­dent showed up in per­son Fri­day night at a cam­paign rally in Moon Town­ship. Un­for­tu­nately, he barely men­tioned Sac­cone. In­stead he talked for the most part about his fa­vorite topic — him­self, while at­tack­ing all his per­ceived foes, in­clud­ing, of course, the press. The pres­i­dent went af­ter “Meet the Press” host and MSNBC an­chor Chuck Todd, re­fer­ring to him as that “sleepy-eyed son of a bitch.”

Repub­li­cans stepped up their at­tacks on Lamb, a for­mer Marine and fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor. They are say­ing he would be a pup­pet for House Dem leader Nancy Pelosi.

The pres­i­dent even pulled out his old tried-and-true tac­tic.

Dur­ing his rally Fri­day night he slapped a nick­name on the Demo­crat, mock­ing him as “Lamb the sham.”

Lamb has specif­i­cally dis­tanced him­self from na­tional Democrats, in par­tic­u­lar Pelosi.

As vot­ing com­menced Tues­day, polls con­tin­ued to show the up­start Lamb with a slim lead in a re­gion that Repub­li­cans have dom­i­nated for years. Look for Trump to take all the credit should Sac­cone pull out a win. And if he loses? It will be Sac­cone’s fault, not a sign of ero­sion amid the white, mid­dle-class vot­ers who drove the Trump train to the White House.

The be­lief is that if Lamb wins, it will be the first sign of a Demo­cratic resur­gence that could see them re­gain con­trol of the House in the Novem­ber mid-terms. It could also spell more trou­ble in the Philly sub­urbs for Repub­li­cans, peo­ple like Ryan Costello, R-6, in Chester County, and who­ever winds up as the GOP choice in the newly cre­ated 5th Con­gres­sional Dis­trict.

To­day we’ll have a much bet­ter feel if Trump’s act is wear­ing thin, or if he’s bask­ing in the glow of pulling a fail­ing can­di­date out of the mire.

Then it will be on to the mid-terms.

Buckle your seat belt. It’s go­ing to be a bumpy ride.

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