Polls have closed in a tight U.S. House special election in southwestern Pennsylvania that some say will serve as a barometer for November’s midterm elections.
Democrat Conor Lamb, a 33-year-old Marine veteran and former federal prosecutor, is seeking to flip the 18th congressional district – which had been held by Republican Tim Murphy since 2003. Murphy was re-elected to an eighth term in 2016 without Democratic opposition, but was forced to resign in October amid revelations of an extramarital affair in which he urged his lover to get an abortion when they thought she was pregnant.
Democrats must flip 24 GOP-held seats to reclaim a House majority, and no one was counting on the Pittsburgh-area district that President Trump won by 20 percentage points in the presidential race to be in play. If Lamb wins, it would further bruise Trump and shake Republican self-assurance that their new tax law is an omnipotent offense and defense in their midterm matchups.
He’s trying to look like a moderate Democrat or look like a Republican but we know he’s not.
As he voted Tuesday, Lamb insisted that Trump was not the main issue in the race.
“We were executing a plan that we came up with a long time ago that had nothing to do with the president,” said Lamb, who later added, “This is a local race … I don’t think it has anything to do with the president.”
Lamb is facing Republican state Rep. Rick Saccone, who vowed on Tuesday that he would be Trump’s “wingman.”
“[Trump] needs some help down there,” Saccone told Fox Business Network’s “Mornings with Maria.” “He is getting beat up in Washington from the media, from the bureaucracy and from Hollywood.”
The president has visited the district twice to campaign for Saccone, once in January and again on Saturday night in a rollicking rally that recalled Trump’s own 2016 campaign.
This is a local race ... I don't think it has anything to do with the president.
“Do me a favor, get out on Tuesday,” Trump said immediately after greeting the crowd. “Vote for Rick Saccone, and we can leave right now.” Vice President Mike Pence, Ivanka Trump and counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway have all visited the district, which stretches from the affluent Pittsburgh suburbs into deep Pennsylvania steel and coal country.
Yet Saccone, 60, has struggled to raise money and stir the same passions that helped Trump sweep the industrial Midwest on his way to the White House. According to Federal Election Commission records, Lamb raised more than $3.3 million since the start of 2018, compared to $703,000 for Saccone.
Meanwhile, national groups aligned with Trump, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and other Washington Republicans have spent roughly $9 million on the race, filling airwaves and social media with depictions of Lamb as little more than a lemming for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Lamb countered with an ad calling it all "a big lie" since he'd already declared he wouldn't support Pelosi as floor leader, much less a return to the speaker's rostrum. He's added his opposition to major new gun restrictions — though he backs expanded background checks — and declared himself personally opposed to abortion, despite his support for its legality.
“[Lamb]’s trying to look like a moderate Democrat or look like a Republican but we know he’s not,” Saccone told “Fox & Friends” Tuesday morning. “We know he will vote, if he gets there, he will vote with the Democratic party 100 percent. We can’t have that. If we’re going to implement the Trump agenda, then we have to stick with the President.”
Saccone’s remarks were an echo of Trump’s speech on Saturday night, in which the president warned: “The people of Pittsburgh cannot be conned by this guy Lamb."
By contrast, Lamb has hammered the new GOP tax law as a giveaway to corporations at the certain future expense of Social Security, Medicare and the nation's fiscal security. Lamb has also embraced unions, highlighting Saccone's anti-labor record at the statehouse — a noticeable deviation from Murphy's status as a union-friendly Republican. The AFL-CIO counts 87,000 votes from union households — around a fifth of the electorate.
In a bid to lock up that key voting bloc, Democrats called in former Vice President Joe Biden.
“You said you want your piece of the sidewalk,” Biden, a potential 2020 presidential candidate, told a group of union workers last week. ”Hell, you own the sidewalk.” Biden has also said that Lamb reminds him of his late son, Beau, an Iraq War veteran and former Delaware attorney general who died of brain cancer in 2015 at the age of 46.
Regardless of Tuesday’s outcome, Lamb and Saccone could face off again in November – though they may not meet in the same district. In January, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the state’s congressional district boundaries were unfairly gerrymandered to aid Republicans.
The Democrat-controlled court has drawn a new map that puts Saccone and Lamb’s homes in separate districts. However, the matter is now in the hands of a three-judge federal panel, which is considering an appeal by Republican lawmakers.
FoxNews.com’s Joseph Weber and the Associated Press contributed to this report.