Lamb con­nect­ing with Pa. dis­trict

Demo­crat far­ing well in a strong­hold for Trump

USA TODAY International Edition - - NEWS - El­iza Collins

“This dis­trict has voted over­whelm­ingly Repub­li­can, but a large num­ber of vot­ers have blue-col­lar Demo­cratic roots.”

Pa­trick Mur­ray di­rec­tor of the Mon­mouth Univer­sity Polling In­sti­tute

CANONS­BURG, Pa. – If Demo­cratic con­tender Conor Lamb wins Penn­syl­va­nia’s 18th Con­gres­sional Dis­trict on Tues­day, it will send shock waves across the po­lit­i­cal land­scape.

Pres­i­dent Trump won here by 20 per­cent­age points in 2016, and many strate­gists see this mostly white, work­ing­class dis­trict as a test­ing ground for the Novem­ber midterms.

But don’t tell that to vot­ers who live here, many of whom have not soured on Trump and are not part of the so-called Demo­cratic re­sis­tance.

Lamb is ben­e­fit­ing from an en­er­gized Demo­cratic base and a back­lash against Trump. But vot­ers also just like Lamb, and even Repub­li­cans are luke­warm about his GOP op­po­nent, Rick Sac­cone.

Lamb “seems like the right guy. I mean, he’s talk­ing the right things. He’s level-headed,” Mario Co­laizzo, a 70year-old re­tired steel­worker, told USA TO­DAY last week. “He just looks like the kinda guy that I would hire for that job. ... He’s ed­u­cated, he’s a vet­eran ... and clean-cut, just the way I like it.”

“Conor is one of us,” Canons­burg Mayor David Rhome said af­ter a gath­er­ing Thurs­day with Lamb and the Union Vet­er­ans Coun­cil in Canons­burg.

Lamb, 33, an ex-Marine and for­mer fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor, knows how to pitch him­self as an av­er­age guy. At the union meet­ing, Lamb joked that his beat-up work boots were prob­a­bly stinky be­cause he had been at a sheep farm that morn­ing be­fore go­ing door to door to pitch him­self to vot­ers.

With Lamb on the ticket, Democrats in this sprawl­ing dis­trict out­side Pitts­burgh feel they have a chance to win for the first time in 15 years. Polls show the spe­cial elec­tion to re­place for­mer GOP rep­re­sen­ta­tive Tim Mur­phy, who re­signed last fall, is a toss-up.

A Mon­mouth Univer­sity poll re­leased Mon­day gave the Demo­crat a 6-per­cent­age-point lead, 51%-45%, if Demo­cratic turnout is sim­i­lar to pre­vi­ous spe­cial elec­tions over the past year. The same poll showed vot­ers evenly split on Trump: 49% ap­prove of his job per­for­mance, and 49% dis­ap­prove.

“This dis­trict has voted over­whelm­ingly Repub­li­can in re­cent elec­tions, but a large num­ber of these vot­ers have blue-col­lar Demo­cratic roots. Lamb seems to have con­nected with them,” said Pa­trick Mur­ray, di­rec­tor of the Mon­mouth Univer­sity Polling In­sti­tute.

Sac­cone has dis­missed the race’s com­pet­i­tive­ness as “some­thing to be ex­pected” be­cause it’s a spe­cial elec­tion. “If this was a reg­u­lar race, I think you would see I’d be way far ahead,” Sac­cone said.

Sac­cone has tied him­self closely to Trump, say­ing he’d be “a good wing­man” for the pres­i­dent on for­eign af­fairs, spend­ing, the mil­i­tary and more.

“Rick Sac­cone will be a great, great con­gress­man. He will help me very much,” Trump promised Satur­day at a rally with Sac­cone in Moon Town­ship.

Sac­cone, 60, has a lengthy ré­sumé of pub­lic ser­vice. He’s an Air Force vet­eran who worked in North Korea and other global hot spots and now serves in the Penn­syl­va­nia state house.

Lamb has shied away from the na­tional Demo­cratic Party and has not taken an anti-Trump line. In­stead, Lamb is play­ing up his sup­port for vet­er­ans and unions — he’s even cau­tiously fa­vor­able about the tar­iffs on steel and alu­minum im­ports Trump put in place last week — and is pitch­ing him­self as bi­par­ti­san.

Who­ever wins the seat Tues­day won’t hold it for long. For the Novem­ber midterms, nei­ther Sac­cone or Lamb will live in the 18th Dis­trict. The Penn­syl­va­nia Supreme Court scrapped the state’s cur­rent con­gres­sional map as an un­con­sti­tu­tional ger­ry­man­der and re­drew it. A new map is ex­pected to be in place by the midterms.

Much of what is now the 18th dis­trict will soon be­come even more Repub­li­can-lean­ing ter­ri­tory, giv­ing Sac­cone a bet­ter shot in Novem­ber whether he wins or loses on Tues­day. The new map will put Lamb in the state’s 17th dis­trict, now held by Repub­li­can Rep. Keith Roth­fus, which will be­come much more com­pet­i­tive if the Demo­cratic con­tender wants to run again.

ANTONELLA CRESCIMBENI/AP

Demo­cratic con­tender Conor Lamb, sport­ing a hat given to him at a rally Sun­day with union work­ers, is run­ning strong in a dis­trict that voted solidly Trump.

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